September 1, 2020 9 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
This isn’t another “how to start a business” article that’s going to leave you with generic tips and general information that sounds good on the surface but provides you no real actionable advice.
Rather, this article is raw, action-packed and may scare some of you. Continue reading at your own discretion.
A 2018 study from Bankrate revealed that only 39% of Americans could have enough savings for a $1,000 emergency fund and 44% couldn’t cover a $400 out-of-pocket emergency expense.
If you happen to be an average person, with an average bank account, a normal job, a family to feed and bills eating up a large percentage of your earnings, then the deck is stacked against you.
It takes money to make money. Online sales are all about eyeballs. How many people can get you to see and interact with your offers?
I tell my eBook students — “you can write the best book in the history of the universe, but if no one ever sees it, you’ll never get a sale. On the other hand, you can publish the worst book ever published and with the right marketing techniques and finances to back it, you’ll get some initial sales, at least until you get a few bad reviews.”
If you start your own website, open a Shopify store, sell on Amazon, social media or any other online marketplace, you will be paying for those eyeballs through either advertising or fees. Sometimes both. The only potential exception would be those with a large and active social media following.
Long story short — if you are the average person without a legitimate budget, you’re kind of screwed.
Learn from my mistakes
Sometimes we all need a reality check. I wish someone would have sat me down and told me this when I was 23 years old because I wasted tens of thousands of dollars on failed online business over the years and it was money that I didn’t have.
I’ve been the average guy with the average income, the average job and above-average bills. There was a point in my life that my monthly earnings were negative $1,000. I had to get a $20,000 personal loan to plus up my income to pay my bills for a year.
Honestly, I don’t know what the bank was thinking by giving me that loan, but I’m glad they did because I had seriously considered filing for bankruptcy and if I’m being honest, I probably should have.
This was one of the worst and most stressful time-periods of my life and if this article can save one person the heartache I went through, it’ll be worth it.
Move over success
A few years later, I was supporting US Special Forces as a military contractor in Syria. While I was sleeping in a tent, eating food out of a can and stealing WIFI from a neighboring country, I started an online jobs website for aviation professionals with security clearances interested in deploying to combat zones.
Related: Need a Business Idea? Here Are 55.
The website itself did become profitable, but it was only a few hundred dollars of profit per month. While it wasn’t a massive win, there wasn’t much like it within the industry.
The site’s uniqueness along with the targeted audience I was able to build via Facebook advertising piqued the interest of the right people which lead to a single dinner and ended with me consulting with a multimillion-dollar corporation.
Since then, it’s been all downhill. Sometimes all we need is a single breakthrough.
If I can do it from a tent in Syria, you can do it from your couch. It didn’t happen overnight though. Here is the process I had to go through to get to that point.
Overcoming average people obstacles
The mistakes I made that put me in the worst financial position of my life are the same mistakes that many others make on a daily basis.
If you are in a position where you don’t have expendable income but want to start an online business, read the following advice carefully…
- Realize that until you fix your own financial problems, starting a legitimate business will be out of the question. This was a tough realization for me, but I’ve learned that you can have the best business concept in the history of the universe, but if you can’t fund it and do it right, it’ll never succeed.
- Sell everything you can possibly sell. Especially liabilities that have monthly payments. If it wasn’t nailed down, I sold it. I lost money on most everything, but it was worth it in the long run.
- Consolidate debt and cancel all unnecessary subscriptions. This allowed me to lower my monthly obligations, decrease interest rates on certain debts and pay bigger chunks towards the debt.
Focus on the money
- Search for a higher paying job. Often, we underestimate ourselves and what we are capable of accomplishing. Put yourself out there and see what’s available. What’s the worst a potential employer can say, no? This is actually how I ended up in Syria. I was able to more than double my salary by accepting a position that most people wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. I even grew to love the job, but initially, I was simply making a personal sacrifice to achieve a long-term goal. As an entrepreneur, if you are not willing to make sacrifices, you are in the wrong line of work.
- Use a skill, learn a skill or try something new. Stop worrying about starting a business and focus on actually earning money. I was able to earn an additional $1,500 a month by writing content for people’s blogs, creating social media content and writing small informational eBooks. Here is a solid hint. If you want to make money, be willing to do the grunt work. Do the things that people don’t like to do themselves.
It wasn’t glamorous, but it accelerated my debt pay off. I was able to get most of my business by joining niche forums and Facebook groups. Here is a solid hint – niche forums and Facebook groups are two of the only places on the internet that you can get those eyeballs for free, but you have to be offering something they are actively seeking.
I actually hadn’t ever done any of the services that I started offering, but with a little practice and learning from people on YouTube, I was able to surpass customers’ expectations.
Starting a business and scaling
Once you are out of debt or close to it and have at least $2,000 to invest, it’s time to start your online business.
Here’s the process I like to follow:
- Don’t think major corporations. Rather, start small and build. Use the new skills you learned to earn extra money during your debt payoff phase and start something you know can be profitable. We all have our dream business, but at this point, it’s more important to start something low risk and stable. Learn to be passionate about the process and business in general rather than a specific idea or concept.
- Once you have a steady flow of business, figure out how to outsource using freelancers. Implement processes to take yourself out of the equation to the point that you are simply managing the businesses and dealing with customers. This will allow you to continue earning from the business, but it’ll free you up to work towards your next business.
- Take the earnings from the first business and invest them into your next business concept. Ideally, you will only be investing the profits from business number one into business number two. This will allow you to continue to build your personal savings from your day job while still allowing you to invest in online businesses.
- Rinse and repeat.
Don’t rush the process. Enjoy the journey.
Personally, I like to have three to five businesses running at any given time. Two or three of them will be low-end grunt work type businesses that fund my ideal businesses.
The grunt work businesses are profitable because everyone hates to do their own grunt work. It’s the reason people pay to have their houses cleaned and their lawns mowed.
You can easily and successfully scale without having to invest money earned from your full-time job. This allows you to continue to save and grow financially while you are building something real.
Starting a business can be difficult and is a process that shouldn’t be rushed.
In reality, it’s a fairly simple process if you are patient.
- Fix yourself
- Focus on the money
- Start with something low risk
- Invest earnings into other business concepts
In my opinion, this is the one process that gives the average person the best chance of being able to start a successful online business.