When we asked over 200,000 of our readers about whether they wanted to start an online business or a side hustle, the response was an emphatic, “HECK YES!”
No surprises there. We’d all love to be our own boss, have the freedom to work from any hipster coffee shop wherever we choose, and overall make good (or more) money while sitting at home with a pet parakeet named Fred (or in my case, just my plants).
But when it comes down to brass tacks, suddenly it’s a Matrix-style waterfall of questions, barriers, and reasons why it may not be possible. Questions and doubts like:
- I don’t have a cool business idea, let alone even know where to find customers.
- Wait, can I also make money recording squishy sounds with a piece of slime (I’m not kidding)?
- OH, GOD, WHAT IF IT DOESN’T WORK OUT AND I HAVE TO WORK PART-TIME AS A DOG FOOD TASTER (which is a real job, by the way)?
These are the questions and concerns that we at GrowthLab have heard countless times before when working with thousands of students, many of whom have gone on to launch profitable full-time or side businesses.
We identified seven “syndromes” that keep people from even starting a business or side hustle and the “cures”* to jolt that rump of inaction.
*We’re in no way certified doctors, just people who’ve been mashing our keyboards about online businesses for a looooong time.
Syndrome #1: “I don’t have enough time.”
Today, “I’m too busy” is a pretty standard, universally understood response to any demand for your time.
Want to grab lunch with a college friend? Nope, too busy.
Sit down and write for an hour? Nah, you’ve got to meet someone for coffee, and besides, you “need” at least a flexible four-hour block to be creative.
Start thinking about your business ideas? Sorry, can’t — got this thing.
The cure: Others may not question your busy-ness — and I totally understand that our individual circumstances and obligations really do keep our schedules tied up — but I challenge you to question if you truly are too busy to spare an hour for lunch with a friend, to go to the gym, or to research business ideas.
Sometimes being too busy can also be code for “my life is out of control,” where your days are more filled with rote tasks that have you darting around like a hummingbird with ADHD than intentional action items that move you closer to a goal.
Our GrowthLab CEO Ramit Sethi suggests that if something — like spending more time with family and friends or starting a business — IS important to you, you need to put it in your calendar. It’s a fact of life: if something is important enough, there’ll always be time for it. And if there isn’t, then maybe it isn’t a priority to you right now.
Ramit’s notorious motto: “Show me person’s calendar and spending, and I’ll show you their priorities.”
If it’s not, that’s OK — at least you can be honest with yourself instead of throwing up the “I’m too busy” shield.
Syndrome #2: “I don’t have a business idea.”
When the media and people you follow on social media paint this dangerously unrealistic notion of overnight success, the pressure is on to have a winning idea right from the get-go.
Worse, because we tend to develop such high expectations, questions like How do you know if you have anything “good” to sell? or How do you come up with mind-blowing original ideas that haven’t already been done to death? grow louder in our heads.
Oh, and if you do come up with an idea, how do you know if it’ll work??
Ah, the pressure!
The cure: Business ideas are everywhere, and we tend to look everywhere else but the one place that more than likely has a great, profitable business idea just waiting to be unearthed: within you!
We always espouse the fact that we all have a little something, a skill, an expertise, a secret sauce — whatever you want to call it — that other people would LOVE to learn more about. These are the same things that people would be willing to pay for. Heck, there are businesses that teach people how to mix electronic music or ride horses … online!
You just need to discover what your profitable skills are by asking yourself these four questions:
- What do your friends complain about that you find effortless?
- What do your friends say you’re great at?
- What do your friends say when they introduce you?
- What would you do if you had 3 hours free every week?
Never mind that you don’t have credentials or are a world-class expert. If you can help someone else get results, that’s good enough.
Syndrome #3: “I don’t want to seem like those scammy online people.”
Nobody wants to be seen as overly pushy or desperate to get others to give them money. In an ideal world, people would just automatically know how awesome we are and pay us and we don’t have to promote our services or products. Alas, we don’t live in an ideal world, and the fact of the matter is that if you don’t have paying customers, you don’t really have a business.
The cure: The fear of selling is real. I felt it myself. All of us that now have a profitable business felt it at one point. It’s a natural part of the process, and one barrier that, for me, was absolutely empowering once I got over it. While there are indeed a lot of nuances in sales, I’d like for you to instead focus on this simple reframe:
Your focus for sales isn’t “how much money can I get from this person?”
Instead, it should be “how can I use my skills to provide an overwhelming amount of help to this person?”
Because when you believe that you can truly help someone, that’s when you don’t feel sleazy or feel like you’re cheating anyone out of anything. It’s ethical business.
Helpful link: How to scam-proof your online business
Syndrome #4: “I don’t have a website/logo/business card/mascot.”
Take a look at other seemingly successful businesses, and you might notice a couple of things in common. Most have:
- A fancy website
- A cool business name and logo
- Some uplifting, inspiring slogan
So maybe you think that you need one or all of the above to have a business, too?!
The cure: If you’re starting a business and immediately you spend 20 hours on your website, it’s like buying a $200 pair of running shoes before you’re even certain that you actually like running.
In other words, you’re missing the crucial core of your business: getting your first paying customers (and you don’t even NEED a website for that)!
I get that there are a thousand things you could work on, but before your business has lift-off you need to be testing your business idea in the real world and getting money from actual paying humans. Those should be your primary goals in the beginning — everything else can come later.
Helpful link: The ultimate guide to profitable business ideas
Syndrome #5: “I don’t have money to start a business.”
Don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to jumpstart your business? That’s OK.
The great thing about our methods for starting a business is that, for the most part, you don’t need starting capital — at least not to the degree that shows like Silicon Valley have you believe. You don’t need to draft a brand deck or pimp yourself out to angel investors or solicit any investor money at all.
The cure: If need be, you can tap into savings. But really, money shouldn’t be your number-one barrier when our suggestion to you is to first HAVE a profitable business idea.
Finding and validating your idea require mainly your time and energy to one, list what you’re good at and can help people with; and two, research your market to see the idea’s potential. Here’s an example of someone who used Upwork, a website for freelancers, to validate his idea.
Great advice from our CEO.
If a lack of funds is your main concern, then maybe you’re just not ready to start a business and should instead allocate your resources to saving and earning more money (like negotiating your salary), and taking control of your financial situation.
Helpful Link: Top 6 ways to earn money online with integrity
Syndrome #6: “What if my idea doesn’t work out?”
It seems like “others” have their ideas just come to them in a dream, they try it, and — boom, instant success!
And if that’s not happening to you, does that mean you just don’t have the “stuff” to make it?
The cure: The truth is most profitable businesses (and business ideas) are born out of many, many failed businesses and ideas. One of our students went through five “failed” ideas before she found one she was happy with. How long did that take her? Six months. For others, it took years.
Rarely does anyone praise the unsexy, messy process that starting a business often is. Like the Instagram picture before the heavy editing and filter. It’s full of heartache, self-doubt, and harsh but valuable lessons. But the first step is to give yourself permission to have crappy ideas (and lots of them), and more importantly, to stop hurrying.
If you’re patient, trust in the process, and roll with the punches, you’d be much better equipped to strike a gold-encrusted idea that inevitably takes time to find.
Syndrome #7: “I’m just not ready yet.”
AKA “I need to figure it out first.”
AKA “I need to get all my ducks lined up before I feel ready.”
Trust me, you’ll come up with all sorts of wild reasons for why you’re not ready, including but not limited to:
- Not knowing how sole proprietorship or solo LLC taxes work
- Needing to learn more about marketing and selling
- Waiting until your dog sheds enough fur for you to knit a weird, dog-fur sweater
Whatever the case, none of us ever feel quite “ready” to bravely venture into the unfamiliar even though it feels like we should.
The cure: When you tell yourself that you’re not ready, you’re telling the world that you’d like to play it safe; that you’re OK just sitting in the back of the car; that you feel like you need to be given “permission” to do something, like taking control of your life, quitting your job, or starting a business.
But you and I both know that there’s no Higher All-Seeing Power that will descend and part the clouds to bestow their blessing upon you. You alone decide when you’re ready, and you’re ready the moment you decide to take action and commit to figuring it out.
Helpful link: How to overcome your fear of starting an online business
If one or more of these apply to you, cool. The goal is not to discredit what you might be uncomfortable with or scared about. Rather, it’s to recognize that these syndromes are normal, but also barriers we can address if we thought more deeply about them. No need to overload yourself with overcoming everything at once.
It’s all baby steps. And lots of cowbell (did anyone get that joke?!).