The internet has fundamentally changed the way commerce works. Amazon and Google rule the world. There is an abundance of opportunities to make money in ways that my parents will never understand. For years, when I meet people and they ask what I do, I explain that I help people who default on SBA loans to settle their debt once their business has closed. Usually, the next question is “where do you find your clients?”. My answer is always the same, “I don’t find them, they find me. I just put a lot of useful information out there, and they find it, then reach out to me.”
Let’s think about that scenario for a moment. I don’t knock on doors. I don’t cold call people. I don’t send emails. I used to pay for Google Ads, but I stopped doing that 5 years ago. For years, all I did was write original high-quality content and post it on this web site. That’s it. It amazes me every single day that I have a business that provides a much needed service, and all I had to do is write down stuff that I know.
Since I consider myself a jack of all trades, I’m not one to rest on my laurels. I spend a fair amount of time online reading and learning about other types of entrepreneurship. Lately I’ve been looking at online marketing types of “opportunities”. And for the most part, the stuff that I find makes me uneasy. So much flash and glitz. Pictures of cash (really?), fancy cars, boats, mansions.
Holy red flags batman.
The way I see it, if your website if chock full of images that are intended people to thinking they are going to be rich, you probably are looking to prey on desperate people. Not cool. First, if you have a fool-proof “system” that is guaranteed to make people money, you wouldn’t need to be selling your “secrets”, you’d just be making money hand over fist and not spending your time selling $100 internet courses. It would be like if you found an ATM that gave away free money, and you were the only one that knew about it. Would you be selling access to that ATM, or would you just take the money and keep the secret to yourself? Personally, I’d be as tight-lipped as “Dollar” Bill from Billions during an interrogation.
Look, I get it. You want to make money, and you don’t want to spend a ton of time and effort to get there. But you need to understand that commerce, especially online commerce is a particularly competitive place. And it’s hard to sell stuff to people, which is why there are so many people selling courses on how to sell stuff….it’s too hard to do it themselves, and they making much more selling “courses” and “systems” to hopeful people.
If you want my advice on how to really start a business, here are some general ideas:
- Leverage what you know or are an expert at. I worked as a workout officer for the largest SBA lender in the country during the great recession of 2008. By publishing tons of free content, it showed the world my perspective and validated my understanding of the SBA Offer In Compromise.
- Testing an idea can save you lots of time and money. I learned this principle from both “The 4-Hour Workweek” and “The Lean Startup”. Here’s the general idea: instead of having your bright idea, then plowing tons of time and money into bringing to to market, you will be better offer testing your idea first. If you aren’t savvy with Facebook or Google advertising (trust me, I’m not!), there are plenty of reputable companies out there that will help you. I’ll give you an example of how this would work. Let’s say you have an idea for a blender that can analyze the calorie and nutrition of food that you put inside it. While you may love the idea, the reality is that you have no idea if the general public would want to buy it. So you could spend 2 years $50K flying back and forth to/from China, finding a manufacturer, producing a first run of blenders. What happens if, after all that, nobody wants them? Here’s an alternative path. Build a simple, one page website. Post a video of the prototype of the blender. Then run some Facebook ads. On your page, offer your blender for pre-sale at your estimated retail price (alternately, and slightly shady, you don’t even offer as a pre-order item, but instead list it directly for sale). Then see what the data says. Are you getting a lot of orders? Are most people leaving the site without putting your item in a cart or trying to check out?
- Most online courses are heavy on generalities, but light on details. And honestly, the hardest part is the details. How to sell is not a mystery. What to sell is much, much harder, and that’s where the details get light. These courses don’t tell you what to sell. They tell you to find a niche product, and they don’t tell you where to find them, and which ones to choose. The way I see it, they either don’t know what products to recommend, or the have found great products to sell online, but they are keeping that secret to themselves.
Overall, selling online comes down to a few factors. And it’s not rocket science. If you have the ability to sell a product for cheaper than anyone else (hard to do when lots of people are selling the identical product), or sell an in-demand product that nobody else is selling, you’ll make money. Figuring out how to generate traffic is pretty easy due to Facebook and Google ads, so I don’t see a lot of value in buying “course” and “systems”. Instead, focus on learning how to test your ideas, and when the data supports going in one particular direction, go for it!