Well, first thing’s first. You wouldn’t want to take advice from somebody who didn’t do it before. I think I’ve got the basics of making money in business down to a “T”. Especially with online ventures because I’ve built and sold businesses before I was 20. Recently, I’ve built and sold a site for 50,000 euros cash, upfront and with no contract after 9 months of work on it. I’m now almost 23. I’ve been involved in business creation since I was about 16.
I’d like to give my 2 cents on these noble topics.
I’ll start by mixing a few general tips with a few personal experience stories and end with a clear roadmap of what we did in the beginning and how you should start. So, let’s get going.
First, in order to start our journey, we all need to:
I think the biggest gift you could give yourself is to start early. In the words of Richard Branson :“Screw it, let’s do it!”. It’s just that easy! The reason that you see more and more stories with kids making a killing with online businesses or businesses overall, at a very, very young age, is the fact that kids are just much more willing to take risks. They don’t think too much about the consequences, and in this area of your life, this is quite needed.
You’ll need to suspend your disbelief temporarily. That’s exactly what I did when I started the site which I’ve mentioned before. The 50,000 Euro one. At that stage, when I started out, it was just a gamble. It could have worked, it could have not worked. But who cares? It’s not like I had anything to lose, except the 500 Euros I invested in it, which is a very small amount of cash. The only real thing I could have lost was my time, and at that stage of my life, time was something I still had some of.
This brings us to the first point I’m trying to make. Start your first business on the Internet, and start it without making a massive investment.
At first, you’ll just have to prove to yourself that it works.
Don’t try to get investors, actually, don’t bring anyone along your journey for the first few months.
An entrepreneur’s life is a lonely journey, understand this. We are a different breed, we’re cut from a different cloth. We can take the pressure, we can take the loneliness.
Trying to take people with you on your journey too soon will only put more pressure on you:
– Pressure to pay them back for their investments
– Pressure to prove to them that the idea you’ve pitched works
– Pressure to make them understand your vision for your business
It’s just not necessary.
Screw investing and staff, you don’t need that
As I’ve said, I started that site (which was a daily deal site here in Romania) with only 500 Euros. Now, I could have invested my own money, but I chose not to. I didn’t get an office, I had no staff. I did everything by myself. I signed the contracts by just going out and hunting them on the streets. From door to door, from company to company. Remember, we were a daily deal site, so I had to get partners to promote on my site.
I then went home (no office yet!) and wrote the deals myself.
I can’t stress this enough. Do the work yourself, don’t hire somebody to do it just because you’ve got the cash. And for those of you who don’t have the cash, that’s just more good news since you coudn’t have afforded a sales rep anyway. You can’t hire somebody to do a job you haven’t tried out for yourself first.
In my companies, I did every job imaginable. I was the delivery guy, the food guy, the customer care guy. I was everyone and everything before I had staff.
You can’t grow until you fill your space with everything needed, all by yourself.
You can’t delegate until you “melegate”. That’s just a word I made up now!
Back to the story, we actually didn’t have a secretary for the first 6 months and our first employees (somewhat underpaid!) were 2 of our friends (my associate’s girlfriend and a neighboor of his!).
I know this sounds a bit weird, considering that we did have the money to invest and hire professionals, but we chose to take this path and I think it’s the best path to take with your startup.
Adapt, adapt, adapt
Now, once we had grown to a certain point, we hit some trees. You’ll also hit some trees.
It’s normal, you’re driving really fast (driving is much like entrepreneurship).
What you need to do after each accident is ask yourself two questions:
– “Can my car be fixed?”
– “If it can be fixed, what’s the fastest way to fix it and get going again?”
That’s just what it’s all about. I know that this may seem somewhat basic, but less Is more and simple Is best. Now, the first question is actually more important than the second.
Adaptation sometimes means switching businesses, killing the one you have and starting something new or morphing them into something new, not going with what you have now if the car is toast.
We could have died when we switched hostings and our DNS propagation took two weeks! Our sales were cut in half.
What did I do? Well, I asked those 2 questions above, and decided that the car was fine, it could still run perfectly, it was just the fact that people couldn’t enter the site because of the DNS propagation (the new hosting).
So obviously, I asked myself the second question:
“What’s the fastest way to get back up on our feet?”
I started doing research on the net about DNSs and what I could do. I found out that it had something to do with a “server flush” that ISPs had to do periodically. I then started to call and e-mail each ISP here in Romania, giving them the heads up, telling them who we were and that it’s in their customers’ best interests to flush their servers right away!
The problem was solved, and we were back on our way. Happily that time the car didn’t die.
There were other times when my car died. I had a few bakery shops when I was younger. I had to let 2 of them go.
They just didn’t make enough money in order to justify my time working on them.
I didn’t get attached to them, nor did I love them. I just saw those shops like the supposed money machines they had to be.
So sometimes adaptation means being a criminal with your business and valuing your time more than anything. Time can always be turned into money, remember that.
OK, but being a startup is hard! How did you actually do it?
I understand that it might seem too simple, so let me just clarify a few things. When we first started out we did do certain things differently. Remember I said that I invested approx. 500 euros in the site. That money went towards offline promotions on the streets of Bucharest for my first deal, a pizza deal.
The deal meant you bought our coupon which cost right about 1 euro, and you got one large pizza. That contract, which was a great one, took me 2 weeks to sign. I went to the pizza joint daily, trying to get it. I finally got it. Do keep in mind that we did not have the site up yet, it was still in development when I signed it, so that goes to show what determination can achieve. I then thought that because the site was new I needed only 2 things to make it work: a great deal which I’ve already signed and loads of people on the site. Now, people, I did not have.
I could have invested in Facebook. Or AdWords. Or banners. Or blogs. Or Radio.
I decided to print small (very small and cheap) flyers and hand them out on the street. I hired 14 people for 2 days, which cost me about 350 euros, and printed 20,000 flyers which cost me around 150 euros. The cool thing was that the flyer only said “Pizza at 1 euro. Go to X site” so it was very small and very to the point. The flyer was black and white and to cut costs, I printed and cut them myself.
If we would have made a big flyer, professionaly, it would have costed much more than 150 euros.
The strategy worked, we sold around 300 vouchers and had thousands of people online from day one. It was a great start. But then things got worse. Sales dropped and also traffic dropped.
I again went back to my two questions. Is the car dead? I decided that it wasn’t dead. Ok, so how can I fix it?
I went to work researching what my more succesful competitors were doing. It just seemed like they had more traffic than I had. More sales, more facebook fans, more of everything.
Obviously I wondered about the source of their traffic. I started googleing, trying to emulate the path through which a normal user would land on their sites.
I googled certain keywords relevant to our niche, such as “coupons”, “vouchers”, “90% discounts” and whatnot.
That was major. Google is indeed your friend. I quickly found out about the affiliating game inside the daily deal market, with the help of google which landed me on such an affiliate site.
I didn’t know about affiliate sites which showcase to their customers all the deals in the entire marketplace and they just get a comission on each lead sent to the actual daily deal site. I got on the phone, scheduled meetings with every affiliate out there. Soon, I had all the affiliates down with my site.
So where to now?
Well, it frankly depends on your circumstances, but lets say that you are young and have no money. That would be the worst case scenario right?
Wrong. Learn a skill like Photoshop or After Effects and get online work (no money needed!).
Check out elance, 99designs, vworker. Start earning a few hundred or thousands of dollars and then invest in a startup. Follow my advice and don’t accept investments, don’t hire anybody. Work all day and all night, be passionate. Sell it in a few months for a 100 times your initial invesment, like I did. Or keep it if you want. Either way you win like Charlie Sheen.
Or go the affiliate marketing or direct marketing route and start a blog, create an audience, write daily, write lenghty and passionately (no money needed!).
Sell other people’s products which match your audience’s desires or create your own stuff and sell them.
Create an e-mail campaign for your subscribers, don’t just try to sell them stuff before giving them free value through your e-mail campaigns.
After you’ve given them value, only then try to sell them something even more valuable.
Victor Balasa is a successful 22 years old Entrepreneur from Romania, Eastern Europe. He’s blog about business and wealth creation is called Victor’s Success Blog!
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