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Erica Douglass, "temporarily retired" after selling a successful business at age 26, writes thought-provoking blog entries challenging you to change your life and daring you to become more successful.
Updated: 1 hour 13 min ago

“What Kind of Business Should I Start?” A Surprising Answer from A Successful Entrepreneur

Mon, 2015-01-19 21:10

What kind of business to start I often get asked what you might think is a simple question: “What kind of business should I start?”

For the first time in many years, I find myself in the same boat as the folks who ask me that question. I (surprisingly) don’t have a concrete answer to this question for myself right now–but, as I’ll show you in this post, I have a way to figure it out.

After I sold my software company last year, I did a ton of soul-searching. I coached other successful entrepreneurs, and ended 2014 by taking a 3-month, part-time marketing consulting gig for Help.com, a funded software startup. I’m helping them launch a successful software product into the world while I figure out what kind of business I’d like to start.

Is Starting a Business Right For You?

The first question you have to answer for yourself is deciding whether you really want to start a business, or if you’re more interested in the idea of running a business than the actual daily grind of doing so. You have nothing to lose here–be honest!

The truth is, there are many more profitable routes (especially when you take into account short-term profitability.) I make more money now as a consultant and coach than I did when I was running my software company–and that’s not unusual for strong consultants with an in-demand skillset.

Realistically, if I were only looking at the money side of it, I could easily fulfill all my financial obligations and then some by continuing to do coaching and marketing consulting. I also enjoy what I do–as an early-stage startup consultant, I get to do everything from coding a front-end website to writing blog posts to coaching CEOs to writing marketing copy. I have a unique and interesting skillset that’s in high demand. So why not just do that for a while?

My problem seems to be one that plagues many of my readers, and might sound familiar to you as well: I just don’t enjoy working for other people as much as I enjoy working for myself.

I’m now in my mid-thirties and have started, run, and sold several companies, so I no longer fear diving off a cliff and starting a new business. What’s holding me back right now, though, is that I’m not sure what kind of business I want to start.

That’s why I figured I’d open it up here on my blog.

Stepping Up to The Plate with Personal Transparency

I’ve long been a fan of personal and professional transparency, as espoused by people like Pat Flynn and John Lee Dumas with their monthly income reports, and Buffer with their vow of complete transparency with their company. More recently, Dan Norris has come onto the scene doing some great income reports and open transparency on his blog.

I like all of these folks, and their respective companies–but I think it’s time for some other people to step up to the plate in this area, particularly more women. And I know that if I feel that way, I need to take the lead and make this happen! So this year is the year where I become more transparent on my blog about what’s going on with my businesses–even if, like you, I don’t always know exactly where I’m headed.

“So How Do You Decide What Business to Start?”

My first step is to take stock of who I am and where I stand right now. If you’re in the same boat I am, give this a shot as well! What are your strengths and weaknesses? Be honest with yourself.

Here’s where I stand:

  1. I want to build a software company, or something that has software as a significant component. I love to code. I’ve been building websites from scratch since 1996 and I still love doing it, 19 years later (wow! 19 years!)
  2. I have a large, overarching goal of building a university. In the interest of full transparency, I don’t think of “building a university” in the typical sense of a giant campus with towering buildings, dorm rooms, and beautiful open spaces. I think of it more as a platform that teaches hyperactive ADHD folks like me how to learn.

    I find startups in this space like Coach.me interesting in that sense–a mobile app where you “check in” to your goals every day and can hire coaches to help you. That’s something in the general space of what I’d like to build when I say “I want to build a university.”

  3. I’d like to start a podcast, but I don’t want to take on too many things at once.
  4. I’m determined to get back into blogging. I’ve realized that to do so, I have to make specific time for it every week. It’s the difference between saying “I’d like to do some yoga” and actually going to classes a few times a week. Blogging takes discipline and focus–two mental muscles I need to build right now, if I want to start another company.
  5. I want to build a profitable company. I definitely feel at odds with the whole “seed funding” mentality. I’m not saying getting funding is wrong for everyone–just that my personal preference in building businesses is to take something that has a small up-front monetary investment and turn it into a profitable cash cow, month after month. That’s who I am and what I do–and that’s what I intend to do in 2015.

Looking at all this, one thing is clear: I don’t yet know exactly what I want to build. This is the point where a lot of people stop–they don’t know exactly what they want to do, so they don’t take action.

Yet, I know a profitable business will only be found by going out there and building something. I’m also excited to blog the entire process, because it will be so illuminating to those of you who really want to become an entrepreneur, but–like me right now–don’t know exactly what you want to do.

The Scary Part: Making A Commitment

My commitment to you is: Every week, I’ll blog here about my progress. If I fall flat on my face, I’ll blog that. If I didn’t do crap for the past week, I’ll write about that. If I end up building something that has nothing to do with software or building a university, but it’s still profitable and works, I’ll share all the details about that!

And, if for some reason, I don’t blog one week, well, I’ll pick it up again the next week. I will fail as I go along. I understand my weaknesses (focus and commitment) and my strengths (a strange and exciting combination–I equally love to code and write copy!)

It’s my hope that, in a year, I can come back here and read at least 50 posts about how I built a business that makes money, is profitable, and is growing. Failing that, I can at least read 50 posts about how I tried–how I found out, week by week, what worked and what didn’t work in going from “I have a vague idea of what I want to build” to actually building a business that makes money.

And, with those 50+ posts, I’ll be able to answer one huge question that hundreds of people have asked me: What kind of business should I start?

I’m right where you are. Stay tuned (and join my email list, below) if you’d like to have some input into where I’m headed in 2015. I welcome your feedback.

Here’s to a very interesting 2015!

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