Looking to start a WordPress business? Not a freelancing business. One that offers a product or service (or even productized services). And that you plan to scale.
If that is you, then keep reading. I want to teach you the lessons I’ve learned since starting my business a year ago (you can learn about my business by reading my author bio at the end of the article).
Obviously, these lessons apply to the early stages of your company. As you grow, things will change. And parts of these lessons will no longer apply to you.
So, let me teach you what I’ve learned from the mistakes and successes I’ve had.
One final word: even though this will give you some great starting knowledge, there is nothing like trial and error. So after reading this article, go out there, start your business, be prepared to make mistakes (but learn from them), and continue to grow and improve.
Lesson 1: Be Prepared To Hustle
Here’s a quote that stuck with me:
“I always felt that I had to work harder than the next guy, just to do as well as the next guy. And to do better than the next guy, I had to just kill. And you know, to a certain extent, that’s still with me in how I work, you know, I just… go in.”
It’s from the beginning of the song All In A Day’s Work by Dr. Dre, from his most recent album Compton. And it’s spoken by the extremely successful Jimmy Iovine.
Jimmy doesn’t mean you need to literally kill. But you need to “kill it.” To push as hard as you can.
You need to be prepared to hustle.
The early days of starting a business are rarely easy. It feels like the entire universe is conspiring against you. If something can go wrong, it will. If something seems like it should take you 15 minutes, it’ll really take a few hours.
When you hear about people starting businesses, they always make the beginning seem romantic. Like some genius sat in his basement, wrote some code, and voila, customers are knocking at his door. It’s the “build it and they will come” syndrome.
But in reality this never actually happens.
Instead, all those people who built businesses that just seemed to miraculously grow were out there hustling. In fact, to really see how much founders hustled in the beginning, read Do Things That Don’t Scale by Paul Graham.
Lesson 2: Your Target Market Is Too Big
From the first day of my very first business, everyone told me the importance of finding a niche. But I never really understood how important it was until I read Peter Thiel’s explanation in Zero to One.
Peter Thiel said that when you are starting out, you want to dominate the smallest market you can. It seems counter intuitive. Why go after a market that only has $10,000 when you could go after a market that has $1,000,000?
Well, when you go after a smaller market, that smaller market usually has needs that aren’t being met (usually because they are too small for the larger companies). So it is not only much easier to enter that market, but also to dominate it.
Put another way, think of this. Which would you rather have? 1% of a $1 million market (that equals $1,000). Or 90% of a $10,000 market (that equals $9,000).
And for those who have bigger aspirations, once you dominate a smaller market, it is much easier to expand to another market, and then another, until you dominate the entire market.
So, look again at your target market. If you are targeting “WordPress users” in general, you should consider narrowing your focus.
Lesson 3: Just Launch…It Will Never Be Perfect
I have seen so many companies who come up with a product idea and spend months, even years, fine tuning every single aspect of it. Most never launch. But if they do launch, most of them find no one wants to buy it.
So they just spent all this time and money on nothing.
Instead, you want to create a product that is just good enough. It’s called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The first time I heard this term was from Eric Ries in The Lean Startup.
I’ve seen a lot of plugin developers do this. They will launch a plugin that works, and does what it says it will do, but maybe isn’t the most beautiful. Or doesn’t have all the extra features they were hoping for.
The point of launching an MVP is two-fold: 1) it will allow you to test your idea on your market and see if it is something they want, and 2) you will be able to get direct feedback from your market so you can improve for version 2.
In my business, our version 1 of our productized service was nothing more than a website we built in about a week, some software we bought to answer support tickets, and my co-founder and I doing all the work.
We spent very little time and almost no money to launch version 1. And we were able to validate our idea, and get feedback. We are now in the process of building and launching version 2. So launch your MVP as soon as possible, as cheaply as possible.
Lesson 4: Do Just One Thing And Do It Well
Time for some basic math.
You have a limited amount of time, money, and other resources in your business. Let’s say that you decide your business will make WordPress themes and plugins, and offer maintenance and hosting, and even build sites… etc. Let’s say that in total, you decide upon 10 of these.
If you spend your time equally amongst all 10, you will only put 10% effort into each. Can you really expect to succeed?
But let’s assume you do succeed. If a company comes along and says, “Hey, they are doing everything with only 10% effort” and decide to put 100% effort to just one thing, they will completely outperform you.
I have done this with businesses and I’ve seen other entrepreneurs do this. They always say the same thing, “In those early days, we should have just concentrated on one thing and done it as best as possible.”
It’s hard but find that one thing and stick to it. If it doesn’t work, switch to something else, but put all your effort into that new thing.
Lesson 5: Automation Is Your Friend
Unless you are one of those lucky ones who get handed a million dollar check to start your business, you probably won’t have any cash to hire employees.
That was the situation my co-founder and I were in when we started. So we took all tasks that we could and found ways to automate them.
For instance, we didn’t hire a bookkeeper. Instead, we used Mint.com to track our income and expenses. We didn’t have someone to handle our customer information. So we used Zapier to integrate all of our software.
If we could automate it, we did.
Lesson 6: Don’t Outsource Or Automate Your Competitive Advantage
Let’s use my business as an example here.
Our competitive advantage is our ability to provide top-notch WordPress support. That includes answering clients as quickly as possible, making sure all work is done well, and going above and beyond where possible to provide the best customer experience.
It would be a huge mistake for us to automate or outsource any of that. If we did that, what would we be left with?
In my days working in the Internet Marketing world, I saw this all the time. I saw companies who would market themselves as website builders. Yet all the work they did was outsourced to another company to handle.
What was their competitive advantage? Nothing. Which is why I saw those companies come and go all the time.
But, there is one exception to this rule. Perhaps that website building company isn’t great at building websites, but they are great at acquiring customers. Well, in that case, their competitive advantage is marketing.
Take a look at your company and decide what your competitive advantage is. And never outsource or automate that.
Now Go Forth And Start Your WordPress Business!
You’ve made it all the way through this article, so I’m going to assume that you really are dedicated to building a WordPress business.
So, there is only one thing left to do.
As I mentioned in the beginning, reading and learning from other business owners, founders, entrepreneurs, etc. is all great, but in the end, the best way to succeed is by trial and error.
Let me leave you with this:
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
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