10 “Rules” on How to Start a Business in 2016

“How do you start a business on the side? How did you do it?”, I asked him.

“What are the EXACT steps?” I needed to know.

“I really disliked my job,” he said, “and I never believed in the idea of getting a fixed wage. So starting a business on the side was my only option.” Can you relate to that? I definitely can. Nothing frightens me more than sitting in a dead-end job where I trade my time against little money.

But where do you start?

“And how can you make the transition as smooth as possible? I still have to pay my bills and stuff…”

I shot my questions at him like a little boy who couldn’t wait for christmas eve.

And I got my answers.

So here is what you do. Here are my ten “rules” on how to start a business on the side in 2016:

Rule #1: Pick something you already know.

And you have invested a good amount of time in it. If you hate your job but you are really good at your profession you could even start there. Expertise helps to build authority.

But nothing is worth to sacrifice your soul for it. So don’t force yourself to do something you hate doing. You will only do a bad job. And it won’t get you very far. You’ll burn out before reaching your goal.

When I was starting out with my app business it was a very easy decision for me to go from ongoing “software developer” to employed “game developer” to finally independent “app developer”. I took something I already have been doing for years professionally and transitioned into a new field each time.

It’s the same with starting a business on the side. Work with you already got. Whatever that may be.

Rule #2 Take out the middleman.

You used to be an engineer working for a big corporate business? Great. Take out the middleman and go the solo route.

Instead of going back to the company you used to work for or picking up a job at one of your competitors go straight to the customer yourself. You just cut out the people in-between who cut your profits. Suddenly you are in business.

You can do all this even BEFORE quitting your job. Some people like the financial pressure. Some need it to get going. Other’s don’t. Adjust to your own personality and traits.

It’s simple. First I was working for a company and made apps for them. They sold them to the customer. One day I took out the middleman. Created my own apps. And sold them to my own customers. No more company in-between.

You can do the same.

Rule #3 Pick a boring business.

Don’t try to catch the next big thing or create the next Facebook. I’d rather USE the next big thing to elevate my small business. Later when you are financially stable you can think about creating the next Google (if this is what you want to do). Even if “changing the world” is your ultimate goal, don’t hurry. Take one step after the other.

People love to skip ahead. They ask for how to make a million dollar but have not yet learned how to make 1000$. So don’t try to be the next Elon Musk and populate Mars. That’s HARD WORK. Don’t do it. Pick a business (within your expertise Rule #1) that a lot of people around you need. Pick something boring. As uncool as this sounds.

You don’t have to come up with new ideas. You just have to do the old things a little bit better than the other people out there.

I know not everyone out there is going to be an app developer here. Although, probably most of you want to become the next “Angry Birds” although you lack the proper technical background and never touched one line of code. Marketing people love to impose the idea on you that there is no technical background needed. And although that might be true. Having years of education and knowing what your freelance developers are talking about is definitely a great advantage.

Just saying.

For you this means you can save A LOT of learning time when you stay within your area of expertise. 

Rule #4: Get a customer ASAP.

This is probably the most important rule at all. You are not in business unless you have a customer. Try to get there as soon as possible.

Again, people try to skip ahead and work on their business plan for the first six months. They think they create an amazing piece of paper and then they go and get some funding.

They try to walk the “magical startup path”:

1) Get Investor money.

2) Quit their jobs.

3) Build a product.

4) And then have millions of customers.

It NEVER works that way. 

Instead start with getting your first customer now. How?

The easiest way to get going is to start locally. Reach out to small businesses in your area. Then ask how you can help them. Find out how the services you can offer might benefit them.

Here are just some ideas:

Google the business. Check their online presence. Their websites. If the website looks way outdated and very much 1990 sell them a new one. Reach out to them and offer them your service.

“But I am not a tech person. I cannot build websites?!” 

That’s irrelevant. You’ll find people who build it for you later. First you have to get a paying customer. Sell them a new website for 2000$. If they want an online shop to expand their retail shop, charge them 3500$. These are very stupid numbers, but you’ll get the point.

Once you have the contract find people who can build it for you.

But get your a customers first. 

Be creative and come up with hundreds of ideas how you can help them. Remember: business is about your clients. Not about yourself. Stop thinking about yourself for a little while.

– How can you be of service?

– How can you create value for other people?

Here are some simple examples of “boring business ideas”:

Get these people’s customers. Create a Facebook page for them. But don’t stop there. Get these people some fans. Do the hard work FOR them. Set up people on Twitter. Then get those people followers. Set businesses up on YouTube, Pinterest, Etsy, Quora, Instagram. Help them build a customer base and email list on Mailchimp. Setup a newsletter service for them. Enhance their customer relationship. Everybody can do this. These are all very “minor” (and boring) things to do. But people are willing to pay for these services. Because you are saving them time.

Even you don’t know how to do all this. The information is out there. Educate yourself and then sell your knowledge to them by doing the work for them.

That’s how you find customers and build trust and authority. Reach out to people and get your first couple of customers. Suddenly you have money coming in and work that needs to be done.

Now hustle until you get your first customers.

In my app business I had my first app live two weeks after starting out. This was super fast feedback. And I immediately knew that my first app idea sucked ass and I wasted thousands of dollar on literally nothing.

Well, sucks for me. But at least I had IMMEDIATE feedback. You have to do the same if you want to start a business on the side.

Get out and find yourself a customer. Ask him what they need. Then give it to them. If they don’t want it (like my first app), your offer might not represent a solution to a real-life problem the current market is having.

Rule #5: Create opportunities (while you sleep).

Forget about “passive income” and “making money while you sleep” for a while. You are in the grinding phase of building your business. Remember? There is no “passive income” in the grinding phase.

But now you already have your first customers. You are already making money. What you need is time. And the best way to save time and get it back is by automating stuff that take a lot of time.

People believe they have to automate the “money making” stuff. I would not start there. People who are just starting out oftentimes fail at Rule #4 and getting their first customers. Because it’s the hardest part. You have to do stuff. You have to get out there and reach out to people. Listen to their problems and then come up with solutions for them. It’s time consuming and hard. But you gotta do it.

Blogging is the best way to “automate” the concept of getting new customers and creating new opportunities for you. So now you have to get out there and start your blog. You set up your blog. And write about all the expertise you have.

Give out a TON of free content about how you handle your business. What you do. What works. What doesn’t. People want to know all that. Be as transparent as possible. And give your readers what they need to know. Write about the stuff your already existing customers (!) are complaining about. And how you solved their pains.

THIS will give you true credibility, trust, authority and eventually even… new customers on autopilot.

Add a “Want to do Business with Me?” link somewhere. People will reach out to you. Request your service. And even offer you all kind of crazy other opportunities.

Rule #6: Blogging is not about money.

I was reading a question on Quora the other day. Someone was asking how to make money with blogging in the next couple of months. He wanted to make 10000$/month with blogging within six months I guess. Can’t remember. It doesn’t matter anyways. He was chasing money. And at all the wrong places.

Blogging is not meant to be about money. Not in the beginning. We now live in a time where everybody can go into the Internet and research your name. It’s like a free background check.

Everybody can read about what you do and what you care about.

A couple of years ago you used to be buying products and “hoped” they were as good as the advertising promised you to be. Now you can read 1000 reviews and see video reviews of these products in only a couple of seconds. The internet made everything transparent. You can no longer advertise bullshit products. People will find out about it. People will talk about it. And eventually the bad products kick you in your own butt. The truth always wins.

So be the opposite. Be as transparent as you can be. Be honest. Be a good guy. Tell everyone on your blog how exactly you helped your customer to get a new website. What effects your service had. Add numbers. Add testimonials of past clients. Give new visitors a clear vision of what you did for your people who bought your service. And eventually what you could do for them as well.

It’s free marketing. And it works. So don’t focus on “making money with blogging”. It’s about building trust. And trust in business eventually turns in to money in the long run. And new opportunities.

And new clients.

“Passive income” while you sleep.

Rule #7: Say “YES”.

First you have to say “NO” to a lot of things. It’s essential to focus on ONE THING (your niche). But when you are first starting out and money is scares you have to do what is necessary to do to keep in business. Your business can’t survive without some money flushing in. You need cashflow.

But the cool thing is you already have your customers BEFORE you start your business, remember? Money is already coming in. And there is work to be done. If not, go back to Rule #4. You are not ready yet.

If you did everything right, you are in a good spot right now. Your blog is up and running and you deliver high quality content to new visitors. Your customers are happy with the service you provide. Everything is good (in the best case at least). And even if not you know what to change and how to adapt. You are flexible.

Every week you continue to put out amazing content which solves painful areas of your current customers and explain how your solutions solved your past clients issues. You keep improving your service and products. In the meantime you create new opportunities for yourself on autopilot with your blog.

Suddenly people are sending mails to you:

  • “We would like to invite you to speak at this conference!” 
  • “Would you be interested in writing for our magazine?” 
  • “We would like to feature your story on your blog.”
  • “We are looking for partners to work on this project!”.

There will be endless opportunities for you.

But it takes time. And you have to put in the hours first. 

When they arise all you have to do is say “YES” to them. Or “NO”. You can choose. But saying “YES” usually helps to get your name out there.

Anything is better than zero.

Rule #8: Keep doing stuff for free.

You put out a weekly blog post. You share invaluable insights with your readers (and potential future customers). You do all this for free. And you generate no real money from it. At least not directly. But this never works that way. Everything works more like indirectly. It might take 10-12 interactions before someone is willing to pay you and hire your service. Give people the chance to receive value for free a lot of times until they are convinced.

For example if you want to become a public speaker. Offer free lectures. Look up conferences around your area of expertise. Come up with an original theme or topic and call the show’s coordinators. Offer to give a free talk.

What does that get you you might ask?

The same social equity as you get with your fantastic online content. It gives you a chance to:

A) talk about what you love,

B) build authority, credibility and trust within your audience, and

C) do it in front of a very targeted audience (potential future clients?).

You give a talk for free and there might be even coordinators for another conference or show in the audience. They don’t know that you are giving a free talk here. But if they like what they see. They might hire you for their own show as well.

It may take five to six times, but if you are any good at what you do, they will be more than happy to pay you. It might take a while to get to that point, but you are patient.


#Rule 9: Always be selling.

A professional does not do stuff for free.

Yes, you are creating your free promotional content on your blog. And maybe even giving free talks. You might even be giving away your service for free for the first couple of customers if you have to.

But in the end you are in business to sell. Remember the Joker in Batman?

“Whenever you are good at something, never do it for free.” 

And the best people to sell to are the ones who are already buying from you. So always come up with new ways to sell to your audience and existing client base. Does this sound bad to you?

Think about it this way. You are spending a huge amount of time to figure out how to further help your customers. And if you finally find something people are struggling with and are also willing to pay for. You sell them your solutions.

It’s win-win.

Your customer got a BIG problems solved for him. You made some money for your initial time investment, your creativity, your problem solving abilities and for even giving a shit about what they are having problems with.

You have to get in the habit of selling solutions to people’s problems.

Rule #10: Customer Service.

Here is my rule for customer service in a nutshell: “Treat every customer like a real human being.”

Sounds too simple, right?

But some businesses (especially the bigger ones) tend to forget about that. We are still dealing with people here. Not numbers. It’s the easiest thing to do. And yet so many companies fail at it.

Remember the last time you were stuck in an automated calling tree? When it took days till someone handled your problem. Do you remember how you felt? Now recall the last time someone had EXCEPTIONAL customer service? You will never forget about it, right? Because it became rare these days.

And that exactly is the beauty of small companies. You can outsmart your bigger competitors by keeping it “human”. By keeping the social factor within the business.

Present yourself like a huge brand. But interact with every client like a small business just starting out would. 

When you are a small business, there’s no excuse for having poor customer service. Everyone who TAKES THE TIME to reach out to you, deserves your time and respect. Do exceptional customer service.

And reap the long term effects of amazing word-of-mouth. Nothing is as powerful as a recommendation from one of your best friends. It’s the biggest credibility you can get in business.


So here it is. My ten “rules” on how to start a business in 2016. And maybe make it to the best year in your life. But they are no real rules actually. More like guidelines. Or inspiration. To get yourself going. To get started.

Do I recommend these methods for everyone? No. But, again, they are starting points for brainstorming. Let them sink in.

And then forget about the rules again.

And do your own thing…

(Photo: Flickr)

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