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Entrepreneurship is certainly an emotional and exciting journey. It can be fun and the freedom is great, but it also takes a ton of work and dedication and there’s a lot of pressure when funds are limited. You might know know the feeling.
Davis and I have worked together on businesses before and none of them have worked until Eazl. From the beginning, it was clear that Eazl is special.
We struck gold. We did it right. And it’s due to the mindset and approach that we developed only after lots of experience and failures.
We get asked a lot about how we made it to the point where we could actually stop worrying about having to look for jobs again. Not wanting to create a “unicorn” that made us beholden to investors, our first goal was to make enough money to just cover life expenses so we didn’t have to get day jobs. To maintain our freedom to continue growing the business.
It started with, “Let’s make $3,000 a month and we’ll make new goals from there.”
So many entrepreneurs think they have to get millions of dollars of investment and strike it rich within a few short years of operation. They think they have to write a business plan and make pitches. But, there’s another model that is less risky and more lifestyle-friendly. There’s a whole world out there and we don’t all need to be like Facebook or Zappos or Amazon.
This is how we made $100k in our first year of business:
1. Risk Taking and Making Sacrifices
We chose to live for for two years in a way that most wouldn’t in order to live the rest of our lives like others can’t. Before Eazl was created, we fumbled around with other business ideas, got jobs and left jobs, did freelance work, and generally had the attitude, “If we can’t make this work, life isn’t worth living.”
In the days when Eazl was only bringing in a few hundred dollars a month, we cooked a lot of modest food at home, had literally no extra cash for luxuries, and did not spend a lot of time socializing. This is something we knew we had to do to create a life we love and a small price to pay for a lifetime of independence.
No one around us understood the sacrifices we had to make or the risks we were taking either. They told us to get jobs and we generally didn’t earn respect until the business became profitable. Sad, but true. You have to remember to shake the haters/doubters off and just keep the momentum going.
Building a business takes time and you’ll go through periods when you doubt your abilities or someone else makes you doubt them. Stay laser-focused on the end results.
2. Finding Mentors
You don’t need business coaches and you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a program. Finding a mentor is one of the most helpful things you can do for your business…and it will cost you nothing at a time when you don’t have money to spare.
Mentors will often give freely of their time but will want to set up an agreement so they make money from your company in the future (revenue sharing, a percentage of the company, etc.).
With a mentor, you need to go find them. Think about your company’s core competencies and find a mentor in those areas. Look at professional organizations (incubators, angel groups, associations, etc.) and ask them to help you.
With a mentor relationship, you’ll be able to chat with someone every now and then when you need someone to bounce ideas off of.
We’ve had several mentors and two have really been helpful and stuck with us. They’ve made introductions to talented people that have led to partnerships and collaboration. They give feedback on our strategic planning. They’ve also invested capital in our business.
3. Building relationships with key partners
Making an effort to form strong relationships with the right people will take you far. We distribute our courses on both Udemy and Skillshare and have strong relationships with our account managers at each platform. We’ve talked to people at Twitter and Teachable and YouTube.
Form strong relationships with anyone who distributes your product.
Through finding these key partners, we have gotten access to data, other inside information, and preferential treatment, which leads to profits.
4. Working on the hard stuff instead of the fun stuff
I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I’ve come across who are just starting out and they are spending tons of their energy building a website. This is creative work that might be fun, but it will not help you launch your business. It’s actually a huge distraction and your business will probably change a lot between the time you start and when you land on the perfect offering.
Get a single landing page up with the necessities for your business and, instead, focus on:
- Building an email list of people who might buy your product or service
- Performing market research and perfecting your product or service
- Getting on the phone with people in your target market and learning what they are willing to spend money on that you can provide
- Getting your first 10 customers or clients
- Testing your product and making incremental changes to make it truly valuable
- Relationship building
- Excellent customer service
- Testing and learning the right marketing strategy for your company and your product
- Collecting testimonials and social proof
Once you’ve got all this going and are in the swing of things, invest in a full-blown website.
5. Creating fans
In the early days of Eazl, we began building a list of VIPs. These are people that we’ve made personal contact with, provided excellent customer service to, and those who expressed high levels of satisfaction with our products.
This list of VIPs has served us well. We can ask for feedback when we need it and, in exchange, we give them special treatment.
Most of our VIPs have purchased more than one of our courses.
In the early days of your business, focus on creating big fans. You can get there by providing a good product and good customer service. Don’t ever treat a customer like they don’t matter. They are the key to growing your business.
6. Focusing on quality
Our mission, at Eazl, is to create the best video courses on career and business topics that have ever existed and will ever exist. We invest time in the right things and make sure that -above all else- we are selling a quality product.
This is really the foundation of it all. If you don’t have a quality product, it’s going to be pretty impossible to create fans, create partnerships, or find a mentor that will stick with you.
Your market research will help you create that kick-ass product.
7. Taking advantage of timing and opportunities
The real turning point for Eazl happened just a few months into operation. We were offered a huge opportunity to make a course that would have guaranteed impact. We dropped everything, put our heads down to work, and created our second most profitable course in just 10 weeks (it usually takes us 6 months to make a course).
It was so stressful and there were times when we wanted to give up, but we knew the timing of the course launch was critical. And it did pay off, helping us meet our first goal of paying for our living expenses to avoid getting day jobs.
Develop your intuition so you can say “yes” when the right opportunities arise.
8. Performing market research
We perform 8 market research interviews for each target market before the creation of any product. The product is created for the customer. We don’t create a product and then try to find a market for it.
In addition to market research for new products, we perform research for existing products. Our students are very open about sharing their opinions about things that can be improved or new elements that we can add. There’s also valuable information in our course reviews.
Don’t skimp on the research. It’s the key to creating a profitable product.
9. Being adaptive to change
Early on in your business, you’ll probably find that you make a lot of changes as you learn new information and discover what works and what doesn’t work. Having to change direction doesn’t mean you messed up. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you do. It doesn’t mean that your business isn’t going to work. Just keep in mind that it’s part of the process and a necessary step towards financial freedom.
I can’t count how many times we came upon new information that led to the death of an approach, technique, or product. We can’t ignore that information, though. It would be the definition of insanity because it would take us down the wrong road.
Sometimes you might feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster as you put the brakes on projects or techniques that aren’t working and kind of mourn over those changes. The mourning is what makes us averse to change. For some reason, it just doesn’t feel good to switch directions and leave things unfinished.
That being said, being adaptive to change is something that every good business owner must master.
10. Finding the right place to sell in the beginning
Determining the best avenues for selling a product requires a little experimentation, a lot of research, and a little bit of luck. Always ask yourself where your product belongs and where your target market spends time. Experiment with a few different ones and adapt when you see what works and what doesn’t.
Early on, we had a fantastic intern that was tasked with finding the best marketplace for us to sell our courses. He found Udemy and we’ve been there ever since. We also added our courses to Skillshare and that’s been pretty effective as well. Both of these platforms provide the audience we need to sell our courses.
We’ve also tried hosting our own courses and that was pretty difficult because it was up to us to drive the traffic to our website. It just wasn’t the best solution for us as a young company with little to no brand recognition in the market. I think we’re approaching a place where we could probably host our own courses successfully.
Something else we tried that didn’t really work for us as a small business with limited funding was working with universities. The bureaucracy did not pair well with our need to make money now. It can take years for universities to make big changes like requiring every student to take our Career Hacking course. Since that approach can’t deliver what we need now, we put it on hold and aren’t investing a lot of time and energy in it.
You’ll have do your own testing for your specific product but you’ll know when you’ve found the best marketplace for your needs.
All of these approaches and techniques allowed us to to get to a point where our business is stable and we are now focusing on growth strategies to increase our revenues exponentially. I’m sure we’ll learn a ton on that journey as well.
Securing that initial minimum income is essential and should really be your first goal for starting a business. We hope you integrate some of our approaches into your launch activities.
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