How to Leverage Your Skills to Start a Side Business
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2016 report, more than 25 million Americans have initiated entrepreneurial ventures. Being an entrepreneur is synonymous with being a risk taker, and one of the best ways to minimize this risk is by starting on the side, from home. In fact, according to the same report, more than half of U.S. entrepreneurs start and operate their businesses from home.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs fail to start a business due to lack of funds and business knowledge. The truth is, in most cases, none of that is required. Entrepreneurs get rewarded for solving people’s problems exactly the way employees get paid for their services. Starting a business is about creating value by solving problems and addressing needs, therefore, capturing an opportunity to serve others and getting compensated for your work is entrepreneurship in its purest form.
Especially for service-based businesses, this does not require a website, marketing campaign, business plan, round of investment funding or any other assets but your existing skills, knowledge and a laptop.
In my experience mentoring entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and visions, I found that most aspiring entrepreneurs worry too much about their 100th customer when they haven’t even acquired their first. Most entrepreneurs worry about growth stages before building a foundation.
This article shares three simple steps to help you clear your thoughts and focus only on the activities that matter in the beginning of a business venture.
1. Define your service.
The key is to stick to your area of expertise. While you may have plans to start a thriving business with many products, services and customer segments, thinking too big too soon will have failing consequences. The challenges entrepreneurs face trying to run before they walk is overwhelming, and this causes failure.
What is it that you do today? This will be your service. If you were hired to do a job, chances are you are good at what you do. If you are a social media marketer, other companies need your services and consulting. The same applies to project managers, designers, programmers, teachers, engineers, researchers, assistants, scientists, coaches, speakers, etc.
Grab a piece of paper and write down your solution -- “I offer X.” Before defining your ideal customer, start by writing down your service. It's fine if your solution is as general as, "I offer social media, consulting, accounting or research services." Defining your ideal customer in the next step will help you become more specific and targeted.
2. Define your ideal customer.
Service providers are often challenged with the ideal customer definition. This is understandable because virtually speaking, using some of the services mentioned earlier, many companies of different sizes need project management, design, programming, teaching and coaching services. Focusing on the ideal customer doesn’t just save time and money in finding and serving the customer but more importantly, it helps in the outcome of your contribution and your results. An ideal customer is “ideal” because you know how to help them get results. They need people like you.
The ideal customer definition process starts exactly like service definition. Start with the company that trusted you to do a job -- your existing or previous employer. Chances are, many similar companies need your help and expertise. You may want to avoid serving your employer’s competitors, however, using them and their needs as a benchmark will quickly help you identify similar companies in different categories or industries.
No matter how competitive your space is, the barriers to acquiring the first customers will still be much lower than learning a new skill to serve customers in less competitive industries. Stick to your background. Especially in the beginning, focus on customer segments with the least players. The bigger the company, the longer the sales cycle. In this case, even if your experience is in helping Fortune 500 companies scale, you may want to focus on smaller companies with similar profiles and help them grow as big as your current or previous employers.
Your value proposition combines service and ideal customer definition. I help [ideal customer] with [your service], and I do it differently or uniquely by [how are you different].
For example, I help professionals leverage their skills to launch service-based businesses by providing them with a clear roadmap to paying customers, and I do it uniquely through a tested and proven framework that aims to minimize costs and reduce time to acquisition while bringing clarity and trust in the entrepreneur’s journey.
3. Define your acquisition channel.
This step is simply about connecting the first two steps. In other words, how do you convey your service to your ideal customer? Use this as a rule of thumb. Your first customers are hand picked. Yes, social media, SEO, funnels, affiliate marketing and all other marketing strategies can help, but you must get your hands dirty to close your first customers quickly.
When you start and don’t have proof or case studies, people will invest in you, therefore, presenting and selling yourself is your best bet. From experience, here are the two best channels to accomplish this goal.
- Cold emailing, including using the power and network of LinkedIn. Drafting a personalized email or message that goes directly to your potential customer’s inbox is one of the best ways to grab their attention, especially when you are addressing businesses. Keep your message short, mention an interesting fact about their industry, comment on one of their recent posts or accomplishments, and present your services and how it can help them drive results.
- In-person events, especially smaller conferences, meetups or social events. Defining your acquisition channels is essentially about finding a way to signal your availability to your ideal customer. Local and national events are a great way to build personal relationships that can soon turn into business partnerships. Spend time developing and nurturing relationships and the rest will follow naturally.
Finally, and above all, the world needs your skills and expertise, and people are ready to compensate you for your contribution. We are all entrepreneurs in one way or another. Entrepreneurship is about creating value through solutions. You do that already, so it’s about time you capture other opportunities on the side or full-time.