Getting Started

You want to start your own business — but now what?

“I want to start my own business, but don’t know what to do!” 

Sound familiar?

It’s pretty much everyone’s knee-jerk reaction to the idea of starting an online business and — well, anything. We then turn to our trusty pal Google and find way too many answers than we can keep up with, which probably led you here. (Hi 🙋🏻‍ and welcome!)

We often (falsely) believe that it’s a dearth of information that holds us in place, but if the power of Googling alone could materialize a successful business from that momentary flicker of curiosity, wouldn’t we all have a business already? Or at least know exactly the first steps we need to take?

Unfortunately, that’s the rub in this age of information abundance: the thousands of blog entries and every-Instagram-business-coach leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure of who to trust. But there IS a proper first step to starting your online business. And the good news is, you don’t need investors, have to wear a black turtleneck, or have the next Facebook as your idea.  

What you really need is an idea, which — believe it or not — already lives inside you.

The cure to “I want to start my own business but don’t know what to do”

Business ideas are all around you. In fact, we have an article that showcases literally dozens of real online business ideas that you probably wouldn’t believe are actually viable!

Every successful business — online or offline — must start with an idea, and not just any idea: a profitable one. One that actually makes money. Now I’m not going to pretend that having your One True Idea will be anything like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. It’s not magic; it’s swimming-with-your-hands-tied-behind-your-back HARD. But to get you clued in, there are two steps to finding a profitable business idea:

  1. Coming up with ideas to begin with
  2. Validating the idea (to make sure people will actually pay you money for your idea)

Let’s start with finding a profitable business idea.

1. Finding an idea

I remember reading Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and musing to myself how amazing it was that she centered her career on organizing things. That’s like stuff I do begrudgingly, but she was absolutely *passionate* about it — and people paid her for it!

When you look to the people in your own life, we all know someone who’s amazing at what they do. Marie was an organizer. Maybe your friend is a fashionista and loves shopping. Or your cousin bakes the most incredible cupcakes. They may not necessarily have written a book or built a whole consulting business around what they’re good at (yet), but they love it nonetheless. It’s their thing.

But to them, this ability that they’ve cultivated over years and years seems like breathing. They don’t realize not everyone does these things — or even knows how!

Similarly, you also have a hidden passion, a gift, knowledge, or some form of expertise that you take for granted. Another way to look at this is to ask yourself: What’s something that you just do or know that people often ask you about? 

For example, do you lift heavy weights in the gym regularly and people constantly ask you questions about how to get started? That could be your superpower! Or maybe you’re really good at identifying valuable items at thrift shops so people often ask you to help shop for them. THAT is a business idea, too.

We all have an expertise or skill we can share with the world — and there are people who would pay for value. It’s not so different from a cook who’s transmuted all of their recipes into bangin’ dishes at a top-rated restaurant where you’d happily pay money for the experience and food. This is overwhelming value that they (and potentially you) are providing to the world.

What this value looks like depends on you, so here’s an exercise I’d like you to do in the next 30 minutes. First, think about the following questions:

  • What do you absolutely love to do in your free time (e.g., maybe you voraciously read blogs and forums on building the most powerful computer rigs)?
  • What do your family and friends constantly compliment you on or come to you for help with?

Really mull over those questions, and chances are, your thoughts will start to ping-pong all over the place. It’s time to transfer those thoughts to paper and write down 20 (yes, twenty!) possible things that you consider yourself good at that other people might find valuable. Here, I’ll share a couple of examples that I’ve written before:

  • Having bodyweight workout ideas to stay in shape while traveling
  • Meeting deadlines
  • Waking up without an alarm
  • Folding fitted bed sheets
  • Talking to anyone
  • Writing articles on the internet

As you can see, they don’t seem like million-dollar ideas right off the bat, but the point is that you take inventory of all the things you like to do and consider yourself good at. I suggest that you avoid thinking about how to make money off of them — for now.

The goal is to simply come up with ideas and pave the way to new ideas you might not have thought of before. And just maybe one could potentially turn into your profitable business idea.

Helpful link: The Ultimate Guide to Profitable Business Ideas

As you’re going through this exercise, you’ll probably notice your brain resisting. You might have thoughts like “Why would anyone want to listen to me, let alone pay me for anything?” or “I’m no expert.”

These are mental scripts that are totally normal and are born from our insecurities. The truth is you don’t need to be a world-class expert or the BEST to give value.

2. Validating your idea

Once you have an idea or a few, your impulse is probably to jump ahead to what you’re going to build and sell.

Pause.

Imagine that you’ve spent months writing an e-book about, say, how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, only to be sorely disappointed that no one actually wants to pay you for your e-book. Building and doing stuff is always more exciting, but it doesn’t confirm that your idea is profitable. I want you to avoid being in that situation of blindly flying into your business.

So … the next step after finding your idea is to validate it — in other words, confirm that people actually want to pay you for it.

Ask yourself first: Why do you pay money for the things you do?

Chances are, it’s to help you solve a problem (like buying a vacuum to clean up a dirty floor) or to simply feel good (like buying a pair of jeans that fit you really well). In the realm of online businesses, your aim is to solve a need and a problem. What are some problems that people have?

Well, let’s look to a few real businesses for inspiration:

In Your 20s solves the problem of people having trouble landing interviews and the jobs of their dreams.


Strength Running helps you run faster with fewer injuries!


CometCamper solves the need of providing all the resources you’d ever want on “tiny living.”

Notice that in every one of these examples, they’re solving a real problem that someone has. We all have an area in our lives that we’d like to improve, where we feel true emotional pain for leaving it unresolved. Perhaps it’s someone who can’t seem to lose weight no matter how hard they try. Or perhaps someone has trouble deciding how to decorate and make use of the space in their tiny apartment.

Also notice that the above examples don’t all cater to the same group of people either. A runner who wants to run faster with fewer injuries doesn’t necessarily ALSO want to land their dream job. What this means is, you’re not trying to provide value to everybody in the world — just the key people who need your particular expertise the most.

And in order to validate your idea and find these people, you need to actually go into the wild… and talk to people! Find an audience for your business idea that’s eagerly awaiting your solutions to their problems.

In my experience, when I was validating my idea, the best place to start was Facebook. It was less scary to approach my friends, and you never know if your friends and existing network could actually be your ideal customers (turns out that they were for me!).

Helpful link: I don’t just launch a product and pray. Here’s what I do

On Facebook, chat up five to 10 friends whom you would be comfortable talking to about your idea, and who, ideally, have expressed some sort of interest in your idea in the past. Something like, “Hey, been a while! I wanted to talk to you about something and could really use your perspective. Got 15 minutes to chat?” The goal is simply to have a casual conversation and get a better idea of where their individual pain points lie.

This is customer research. You are gathering more information and actually road-testing your idea, rather than letting it live in a vacuum inside your head. When you can get at least five people who would unequivocally say “YES, I NEED THIS IN MY LIFE” and pay you, that’s when you know you have the beginnings of a winning idea on your hands.

Your idea has been validated.

Helpful links: Stuck on business ideas?

While customer research sounds boring and keeps you from the excitement of building stuff, it is incredibly important to validate and avoid wasting precious time.

And don’t worry: This process will take time. No one expects you to have everything — including your idea — figured out quickly. The more important thing is that you do something bit by bit now and every day. And before long, you’ll be a lot further along than you ever thought possible.

But … what if my idea has been done already??

So you’ve spent months — or even YEARS — coming up with multiple original ideas and talking to potential customers, only to feel disappointed that your idea has been done already.

With THOUSANDS of options out there, it’s easy to wonder if there’s any room left for us and if anyone would buy our product. Next thing we know, we feel like we wasted time looking for the “perfect” idea and have nothing to show for it.

But competition isn’t always bad. For example, how is it…

  • New fitness businesses pop up all the time but still make money?
  • Relationship coaches are able to find customers and make a product?
  • Our CEO Ramit Sethi was able to create a successful online business in the crowded personal finance space?

Just because an idea has been done already doesn’t mean you shouldn’t join the fray. We’ll show you how to differentiate yourself from the pack and still create a killer business.

Yes, I want to see how I can beat the competition and make money online

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There Are 2 Comments

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Zubin Ajmera

What if in your customer research people say “Yeah, I would love that”

But, in reality, they just say because they don’t want to hurt your feelings,

So, how do you TRULY know when your idea is validated?

Stephanie Lee

Great question. You KNOW they really mean it when they get emotionally charged. There’s a difference between “yeah, that’s annoying” and “OMG YES, I THINK ABOUT THIS ALL OF THE TIME!” And if you push them on whether they’d invest in something like this, you can call them on their “bluff” and say, “Great, would you be willing to pay me $20 now to help you get started?” When they actually are willing to pay — that’s when you know.

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