Starting a business is risky. Horribly, terrifyingly risky.
Nearly all new businesses fail — that’s the official statistic, right? Some say 4 out of 5, some say as many as 95%.
Successful entrepreneurs have a different kind of DNA from the rest of us. Ice water runs through their veins. They thrive on risk. The more insane the odds, the better they like it.
For those of us who have families, or who just don’t feel like living on ramen for the next four years, we’re probably better off keeping the day job.
Do you believe any of those?
Because I call B.S. on all of them.
Life is risky
Day jobs are very risky. You’re making a bet that your company is well-run enough to survive the economy’s twists and turns, and that they’re always going to want to keep you around. Either of those can change in a heartbeat, and you’re left without a safety net.
Crossing the street is risky. Using an ATM is risky. Having kids is almost unbearably risky.
Almost 100 people in the U.S. are killed by lightning and bees every year. Going outside: super risky.
You can cut down a lot of risk by getting a job at the post office and spending all of your non-work hours in front of your television. And if that sounds like your idea of a life well-lived, you should go do that.
For the rest of us, let’s talk about intelligent risk
Michael Ellsberg, in his terrific new book The Education of Millionaires, devotes a juicy section to the myth of the extreme riskiness of starting a business … or at least, to the perception of extreme risk.
Most people, when they think of the idea of starting a business, see it as an incredibly risky proposition, one that entails not just egg-in-the-face, but total ruin. They are nearly hysterical about the risks they could incur if they left their safe, boring jobs.
Ellsberg goes on to say that,
Most of the self-educated people featured in [his] book took pains to make sure that their “downside was not so exposed,” to use the parlance of investing: they made sure that a failed business would not mean total ruin; it would just mean a few scrapes, a few good lessons learned, and up they are again at a new one. No biggie.
About those statistics
The scary statistics about new business failure get quoted all the time. If you mention at Thanksgiving that you’re thinking about starting a business, your Aunt Mary will definitely dredge them up.
But gross statistics compiled by government agencies can’t give you the picture of what those “failures” look like.
They don’t tell you how many were experiments. They don’t tell you what the “failures” taught the business owners. They don’t tell you how many of those businesses changed into something else — something more fun or more profitable. They don’t tell you how motivated the owners were. They don’t tell you what the owners went on to do next.
Now don’t get me wrong, lots of new businesses don’t make it. Many of them start out with fatally high overhead — rent and employees are expensive. If you’re a restaurant, a dry cleaner, or a fitness club, you don’t have a lot of choice on those.
For a high-overhead business, marketing is a necessity, not a luxury. You don’t have the time to wait around for word of mouth. If you don’t get enough customers through your doors before you run out of cash, you lose.
Unfortunately, a lot of those bricks-and-mortar business owners have never educated themselves about marketing or sales. They “don’t have time” to read and implement a free course like Internet Marketing for Smart People, or a few Dan Kennedy books.
The greatest risk to any business is that no customers will show up
The problem isn’t that business is inherently risky. The problem is the mentality that customers are going to drop out of the sky just because you’re so cool.
Maybe marketing feels weird. Maybe selling feels impossible. (Trust me, I have been there.)
Maybe you’re making excuses for not pushing out of your comfort zone, by telling yourself that great products don’t need to be marketed and sold — they just sell themselves.
If you’ve ever thought this, make a note of what I like to call Sonia’s Law:
Sonia’s Law: Nothing Sells Itself.
Great products and services deserve great marketing, so they’ll find the audiences they can help. Your brilliant business idea is only as good as your ability to sell it.
You can choose to get over it
Believing that marketing and selling are for “other people” is a little bit like hanging on to the idea that the earth is flat.
It’s an idea. (A wrong idea.) You can decide to get over it.
And when you do that, you can manage your risk to a degree that you never thought possible.
You can learn something about copywriting and the techniques of direct response. This is simply the art of taking effective salesmanship (in text, video, or audio) and getting it to a larger audience. It’s going out and asking for the sale, instead of hoping it shows up somehow.
I don’t care if you use your copywriting skills online, in TV or radio ads, in flyers, by direct mail, or by carving your message into the moon.
You can also learn how to use content marketing to make selling a lot easier, by showing potential customers how much they would enjoy your product or service. By showing you aren’t a sleaze. And by using creativity and talent to attract attention to your business, instead of paying tons of money for advertising.
You may never become a ninja
Not everyone who studies copywriting and content marketing gets good at it.
But if you even become marginally competent, you’ll be ahead of 90% of your competitors. You don’t have to be faster than the bear — you just have to be better than the other guy.
And by making a serious study of marketing (which, by the way, starts with the art of creating products that customers truly want to buy), you’ll learn what really good sales and marketing look like. And that means that if you choose to, you can hire or partner with people who are truly masters.
So how do you get started?
First, I’m never going to tell you to “leap and the net will appear.” That’s just not smart.
Don’t quit your day job or radically restructure 100% of your business because you have a “passion” for a certain approach or topic.
Self-help gurus will tell you to follow your dreams, and I think that’s excellent advice. But follow them the smart way.
- Start with prototypes. Create small “minimum viable products” that respond to urgent customer needs. Don’t create products and services just because you think they’re cool — make sure customers think they’re cool, too.
- Study the art of content marketing. Create content your potential customers will love — content that gets the attention of your ideal customer and doesn’t let go.
- Study the science of copywriting. Giving serious thought to product benefits, the language of your market, and clear calls to action doesn’t just make you a better marketer, it makes you a smarter business owner.
- Do more of what works well, and less of what doesn’t work. This means you have to pay careful attention and have some simple measuring tools in place.
And there’s nothing wrong with using a framework. Some people like to reinvent every wheel from scratch, but most of us do well by modeling what’s worked in the past.
That’s actually why we created Teaching Sells. To create a framework of proven business models and techniques for one of our favorite businesses for the 21st century — the online education business.
(One of the reasons we like it? It manages your risk by keeping overhead low and making sure you have an audience of buyers before you create anything.)
We’ll be re-launching the course in a few weeks, so if you want to find out more about it and how it works, drop your email address here. We’ll send you some high-quality articles and other goodies to get your juices flowing, and all the details so you can decide if Teaching Sells will be a good fit or not.
How about you?
How have you managed risk — or the fear of risk — in your business? What helps you get more customers in the door?
Let us know in the comments.
About the Author: Sonia Simone is CMO of Copyblogger Media and co-creator of Teaching Sells.