I’ve now invested over 7,000 hours trying to turn my passion into a fulltime business — producing language-learning books and online language learning webinars. The advice I’m about to give you? It doesn’t matter if your business is more of a physical product or even a service. There are some insights to starting a business that can help us all.
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Most of us can get really passionate about something. If this includes you, you’ve probably invested a lot of time perfecting your skills in a particular area. Maybe you feel this is the right time to turn your hobby into a business. Perhaps you want to teach, offer your services, or create your own product.
But in order to build a successful business you really have to love what you do — day-to-day. After all, you’ll be spending most of your time doing it. If you plan to start a pizzeria, for example, you should really enjoy pizza: that means a love of baking it, creating it, even looking at it – not just eating it.
For me, I love writing books, and I try to get better at writing by coming up with better and new ways to tell stories. When you love what you do and put all your passion and time into it, you will create a successful business . . . right? You will in an ideal world. Unfortunately, in reality, it’s far from enough.
I wish passion and time are all we need, but they’re just half of it. Here are some of the things I wish I knew when I first started — and others I’m still learning – that will hopefully give you the head start you need.
If your product is for everyone, it’s for nobody: For my first book, I decided I wanted to write about learning Portuguese for anyone going to Portugal, Brazil, or other places where they speak Portuguese. Great idea, am I right? That means anybody in the world can qualify as a potential customer; but that’s a hell of a lot of customers. How do I know where to advertise or where to even start?
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Of course, one way to catch people is to use Google Ads, for example, when they search for holiday destinations — but that can be expensive. It’s much better to go after a particular niche that you know where to find, and create a product that’s specific to that audience.
Before you decide what you to do or make, you should think carefully about where you will find your audience and how much it will cost you to reach them. It is better to have a narrow audience — not even the biggest brands have the whole world as potential customers, and you shouldn’t either.
Share your best content (for free): A lot of authors and business people are reluctant to give things away. I did too. How am I going to give away something that took me so long to make? How am I going to share my unique product with the rest of the world without charging them anything for it?
But here’s the thing: giving away content is a long-term income machine and relationship builder. It’s your opportunity to listen to your audience and get real feedback to use your advantage – namely, to improve your product, service, or business.
You need to earn your audience, and the best way to do it? Give them something of real value. Give more than just a freebie. Give them an experience, something they will remember. I don’t know about you, but I get freebies all the time, things that I have no use for like stickers or key chains. Unfortunately, most of it is junk. But if what you’re giving me is something that inspires me, helps me to solve a particular issue and is actually useful, then it is more than just a freebie; it is special and remarkable.
Put all your love and effort into something you believe in; be generous and give it away. It pays off in the log run – trust me. Not only will it build your credibility; it will establish you as an expert in your industry.
Stop being the perfectionist and ditch the micromanaging: My first book was a hard one to release. This was mainly because, to me, it never seemed good enough. I felt that I needed to improve it all the time, so I ended up spending a lot of time making microscopic changes to it.
Sometimes you just have to let go and improve things as you go, rather than getting stuck at a single task for a year. Of course, overall layout, spelling, and punctuation are important, but if your content is great, people are likely to forgive you for a missing comma.
In business, being a perfectionist is tricky, because you end up wasting a lot of time on things that are not really necessary or crucial at the moment. Perfectionism distracts us from seeing the big picture – our true goal. In whatever you do, there will always be room for improvement, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
Sometimes you just have to be brave enough to put your content out there – even if you think it can still be improved. Your first version will never be as good as the second and third, but the important thing is that you keep improving and striving for excellence.
Passion alone is not enough: So you’ve decided to start your own business doing something you love. There will be a period of excitement, perhaps during the first six months when everything is new and exciting. But just because you are passionate about what you do, it doesn’t mean everyone else will be. Even if people love your work, they may not be willing to pay you enough to make you a decent living.
This is where you have to take the professional hat off and put the business one on. Think about prices and everything else that comes with having a business — marketing, sales, branding, outsourcing, PR, etc. – things you may not be so passionate about, but still have to be done. Your success will not be determined purely by your passion but all the other aspects a business requires as well.
Don’t just be a brand — be personal: When I first started recording videos and sharing them with the world, I felt really self-conscious. My hair looked funny, I had an accent, I gesticulated a lot, and my voice sounded terrible. But let’s be honest, who likes to listen to themselves? Not me, and probably not you either. So get over it and start recording.
People want to see real people, and they want to learn and buy from real people too. Think about it. When was the last time you subscribed to a generic YouTube channel? I subscribe and follow people on social media because they’re personal, genuine, or have something interesting to say. Deep down, people care about people, and they will listen to your story — whatever your quirks.
Stop doing your “job” and run your business: Statistics show that 8 in 10 startups fail. There are many reasons for this, but one of the most common is a tendency to focus too much on the job and not enough on the business itself.
In other words, you can be a magnificent writer but that doesn’t mean that you will sell enough books to make a living or be a best seller. Have you ever wondered how the latest “it girl” celebrity made it to the best seller charts? It’s not because her book is an amazing piece of literature; it’s because she has built a brand and an audience.
Creating a product is much more than just coming up with a product. You really have to understand who your audience is. At least half of your time needs to go into marketing and promoting your work — building your credibility, listening to your customers, and engaging with them.
That means finding a balance with both sides of the business. Most people have a working routine in their profession, but running a business is a whole different ball game. You are in charge, which may sound great, but you have to be the one motivating yourself, creating your own habits and work routine. This can be hard, as a lot of people starting a business also keep their day jobs on the side.
But getting into a routine isn’t impossible. Perhaps you can work at your outside job in the morning and run your business in the afternoon. This often means working long hours, even weekends, but in the beginning that’s what it’s all about – hard graft for real gain. Get into your new habits and stick to them – or else it’s hard to get things done and reach your maximum level of productivity.
Caterine Apruzzese is a writer and the author of Recipes for Visiting Brazil and Habla Ingles en Londres. After having lived in more than five countries around the world, and having to learn different languages, she co-founded Fluent Globe, an online language learning service for expats who want to unleash the riches of their new city by learning and speaking the local language. Her interests include traveling, online marketing, and entrepreneurship. She currently lives in Switzerland and she’s learning Swiss German.
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