Within the last week I have nailed down the final set of features and bug fixes for Automatic Blog Machine. It’s now in a stage where the development is finished and I can start focusing on the sales and marketing push and finally release it out to people like you who may be interested in using it.
There are a few different phases to go through in the creation of a business like this. Through my past failed experiences at entrepreneurship I have found that there’s a number of steps that require different skills which can create problems for a one man show like mine.
To be successful you need (at a minimum):
- idea generation
- development and testing of the idea into an actual product or service
- financial and legal organization
- sales and marketing ideas and execution
- customer support
The vast majority of people don’t have interest in doing all of these wildly different tasks. They all require different skill sets and different motivations. All of these steps can be broken down further revealing more mundane day to day details which can bog down even the most determined entrepreneur.
The job of the entrepreneur is to learn which of these pieces they have the desire and motivation to see through themselves and which are better handled by paying someone else to do it for them. Unfortunately sometimes the way to learn these things is to try and fail.
I have on several occasions tried to get a business idea off the ground. As the idea generator and the software developer I usually find myself stalling at the software testing phase. It’s so boring. Going though a product writing test code and manually checking interfaces takes time and effort which is often the downfall of the entire enterprise.
Your mileage may vary, but for this latest project I was able to get through the testing phase with the extra external motivation I received by attending a conference and meeting people that were actually interested in buying the final product. That gave me the confidence to get though it.
For the financial and business organization stuff I decided to hire an accountant. This may have been more beneficial than I expected. Besides having someone else deal with the paperwork and keeping me from having to dig though reams of material to figure out what the best business structure to use, how to allocate shares and file and register everything with the government. There were a number of side benefits to having someone else do the work:
- Makes it feel more legitimate – I have registered businesses myself, but when you do that it somehow feels less real. You just hand in a few forms pay the fees and declare yourself President. Having an accountant witness you declare yourself President somehow feels less like a scam.
- Provides external motivation – I told the accountant what I expect to be making and when I expect to launch. I know he’ll see the numbers when tax time rolls around so there’s pressure to actually see it through and start generating some revenue. Going back to the accountant with $0 in revenue to declare would be a huge embarrassment.
- If I had to figure out how to do everything it would have taken months of dragging my feet figuring out what forms go to whom and in what order. The accountant got through everything in about 3 days.
- I now have an expert on my team to ask questions about how best to organize things. He can quickly tell me how to organize my finances, and when is a good time to register holding companies, trusts, and how to issue additional shares.
Dealing now with the mental switch going into sales and marketing is tough. The technical aspects of software development suits my personality but switching then to the creative aspects of creating a marketing plan, recording videos, and being persuasive requires a completely different set of skills.
Not many of the projects I have started made it to this stage. Most die off much earlier. But the few things that I have successfully managed to get a marketing plan for and get the product available for sale has taught me a few lessons.
Getting something for sale is THE major turning point. I have met quite a few people trying to make money online and very few of them actually get to the point where they have something for sale. The few that do have something for sale are in a much better position – they can test different marketing strategies, split test offers, find and partner with others and run customer surveys. Once you have something for sale there’s lots you can do to grow the business.
For any business you simply can’t make money if you have nothing to sell. Selling other peoples things can be done profitably but in my experience it’s difficult to compete against the army of people trying to do the same thing.
Finally, customer support will land on you whether or not you are prepared for it once you have sold something. There are two methods for customer support. The classical approach is to have people answer customer questions and concerns either through a call center or some other support center. The Google approach is to move most of the support to the community through the use of wiki’s and forums – customers can help themselves and help other customers directly.
These five categories of skills are the major distinct skills required in a small online business. I’m sure that as I continue to learn and hit new stages of business growth new lessons will be learned and skills acquired.