From the desk of Harsh Strongman
Subj: “I want to start a business but I don’t know what to sell” – What should I do?
Steve Jobs was asked this question back in 1995, and his answer was “go get a job as a busboy or something until you find something…”
Times have changed since 1995, and we now have high speed internet in everyone’s hands.
The Answer You’re Looking For
Here is the answer to the question in the internet age:
If you do not have a business idea yet, focus on building an audience and learning business skills (like copywriting, familiarity with tax and mercantile laws, technical skills like coding and building websites, etc.) so that when you do have a business idea, you are able to execute it smoothly.
Building an Audience
When you find something to sell, having an audience will give you someone to sell your products and services to.
If you want to sell something, you can’t just go stand in the street and scream about your product – you need leads.
Your audience is your source of leads. No matter what you’re selling, you need to reach people who might be potential customers.
If you already have an established audience, your job is 100x easier.
Start a blog. Get on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Quora, and whatever platforms you like and use, and build an audience base.
You can even build a business entirely based on social media. The Art of Twitter shows you how.
Copywriting is the art of writing advertisements and sales pages. A good sales page will convert far more people than a bad sales page will.
Knowing how to write a good sales page is one of the most valuable skills you can have as an entrepreneur. No matter what you do – everything in life is sales.
You can have the best product on the market, but if you can’t sell it well, you won’t be making a lot of money.
Case in point, for one of my products (not LMM), I 5x’d sales by simply changing the sales page and making it more persuasive. I didn’t change the product, all I did was change the words on the sales page.
And the page went from converting hardly a few people to converting lots of people into customers.
The business from that product is worth 5 times what it was worth earlier, all because of the new sales page.
Copywriting is one of the most valuable skills you can have, and if you’ve never sold anything online, I guarantee that you suck at copywriting.
People tend to think writing a good sales page or email is “secondary” and “can’t be that hard”, but that’s just arrogance and ignorance.
Copywriting is something that you have to study and learn and practice (sign up for some affiliate programs and run some ads to find out for yourself).
This is both an art and a skill, and you will need it when you do launch a business (or you’ll end up leaving a ton of money on the table – like I was!).
Tax and Business Laws
Good businessmen know about the business and tax laws of the place they’re doing business in, and they also know how to get around them.
Sure, you can “hire someone to do it for you”, but good lawyers and accountants are expensive and to have to bounce decisions around multiple people makes decisions slow and inefficient.
Develop a decent bit of knowledge in (pertaining to the country you are based in):
- Tax laws
- Company Laws
- Contract and Mercantile Laws
Do you know what expenses you can claim as business expenditures for tax purposes and which expenses you can’t?
Did you know that you can register your tech business as a startup and get a 3 year tax holiday?
Do you know the advantages and disadvantages of using an LLP instead of a company? (Most people don’t even know what an LLP is.)
Do you know the difference between a shareholder and a director, and what their powers are?
Do you know what a contract is? Do you know if it is necessary that a contract is stamped and registered for it to be enforceable?
Most people do not know any of these things.
While it’s not necessary to know any of it to start a business, and you definitely don’t need to be an expert, but to have a working knowledge of the laws of the country you’re going to base your operations in will only make it easier to for you to manage your business well.
Learning these things takes time, and it’s good to know them before you start.
Case in point, do you know what a vesting schedule is, and why it’s important? Mark Zuckerberg didn’t, and it cost him, in his own words, “billions of dollars”.
(Watch from the 19:30 mark)
Same rationale as above, you can always hire someone and you don’t need to be an expert, but knowing the basics yourself makes things fast and cheap (which is important, especially in the beginning).
Here’s some of the things you should know:
- Basic coding that allows you to interact with text files, manipulate data, and use APIs (learn python)
- How to use a VPS, schedule cron jobs, and more importantly, you need to know enough to use web search effectively when you need to do something you don’t know how. For example, you should know how to check the server’s error log, so when something goes wrong, you know what to search for.
- How to create a wordpress website, install a theme, etc.
- How to edit photos and videos
(Don’t worry, you’ll learn a lot of this in the process of building an audience.)
These are skills you will need at some or the other point in your business journey (especially if you start an online business).
If you don’t know how to do these things, it’s going to slow you down considerably.
Recently, I needed to scrape Google search results for a few keywords. I could have done them by hand, but that would have taken forever. And if I had to do it again next week, I’d have to repeat the effort.
I could have hired a guy on Fiverr to write the code for me, but it would have taken him a day or two to deliver, and I would have to spend time explaining what I needed to him.
Because I know python, I was able to write the code and do the job quickly and automatically. It took 15 minutes – no delays, no hiccups, and no having to find a freelancer to do it for me.
You can’t learn a lot of these things on the fly. For example, if you had to write some python code to do something you needed done today, and you don’t even know the basics – you won’t be able to do it even if you found a tutorial.
You wouldn’t even know where to start. You’d need to figure out how to install and use an IDE like PyCharm, etc. – it’s all very overwhelming to learn in a day when you’re just trying to get some particular task done.
Moreover, if you don’t know the basics of a tool, the idea of using that tool wouldn’t even occur to you.
As you can see, just because you don’t have a business idea to pursue just yet, you do not need to go and become a busboy until something hits you.
There are plenty of things you can and should do and learn that will help you in your business journey (the most important one is building an audience) whenever you start in the future.
Hope this helps.