I got this email from an old friend today and wanted to post my reply to him:
So how are things at Watershawl these days? You still able to make a living off of it all? I’m pretty anxious to hear all about what you’ve got going on these days. It seems like you’ve been away for a while now… it was sink or swim time and you swam!
I’ve got that itch again. You know the one where I want to make money my way. I won’t lie they really take care of me there, and I’m learning tons every single day, but I’m starting to read blogs about making money from home and what not again. And it reminded me that I haven’t checked in with you for a while on where you’re at.
My experience at Watershawl can best be described by the attached picture, but yes, I’m able to make a living off of it. The issues I have are not unique to my business though and that’s cash-flow (you know, the stuff the Cash Management guys talk about all the time). What that means is that although I make enough over time, it doesn’t always come in at the same rate I need it to go out for bills. In other words, it averages out alright, but isn’t always timed right. For example, this month I’m scheduled to make a $400 profit over my bills (something that never hardly happened when I had a normal job), but right now I don’t have anything. It’s like that pretty much every month and that’s because I didn’t have a savings account (and still don’t).
I don’t think the itch to leave will ever really go away (unless you die inside), but there are ways to test the waters before you jump in. First of all, start thinking of your job as your biggest client and try to stop ‘expecting’ a paycheck and start trying to ‘earn’ a paycheck. This will put you in the mindset you’ll need when dealing with clients outside of a employee relationship. When I left I had 1 boss, but now I have over 20 (the number of current clients). My time is not my own. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. I have to work for them just like I had to work for my old job. The difference is that if I work more, I get more (and I can charge more). I also get to sleep in and do whatever I want. 🙂
My recommendation to you would be to take advantage of where you’re at and LISTEN to what people are saying. What I mean by this is if you can start to hear what people’s problems are, stuff they complain about, and/or what their pain points are, that’s the beginning of discovering a product, service, or business that you could start in order to solve that need. You’re in a better position in some ways than I am for finding out that information. I would love to find out what problems commercial loan officers have or what problems their clients have. If you can find a problem that you can solve + a customer that is both willing and able to pay for that solution, you have a business idea.
The key is to iterate your business idea until you have what’s called a product/market fit. Eric Ries talks about this in his book, Lean Startups, but you can also read Steve Blank‘s work on it. They’ve worked together so they have similar ideas. But basically, the premise is to 1) discover a problem 2) hypothesize a solution 3) interview potential customers about the solution 4) refine the solution. Once you get to a product that the customer would be MAD at you if you took away from them, you have a product/market fit and then you get funding and build like crazy. There are other subtle variations (like starting with a product instead of a customer), but being customer-centric in everything you do will pay dividends.
One idea that I don’t mind sharing with you is a “LED light bulb replacement service” where you go to a company like a bank and say, “I’d like to save you 40% off your lighting bill and would be happy to show you how it works by converting one of your branches to LED lighting at cost – if you like it, we’ll do the rest of your branches too, if not, we’ll go on our way and thank you for your time.” Essentially, you’re going in, finding out how many bulbs they have, estimating the cost upfront and the cost savings, and then swapping them out in one day. You can even do a buy-back on existing fluorescent light bulbs that you can either trash or sell to someone else.
A typical day for me is waking up around 8, checking my email for emergency work, working on some projects for customers (usually web edits), reading up on subjects in my field, visit a customer at their location or at a restaurant for a meeting, attend a networking meeting or meetup at night, and then in bed by midnight. I recently joined a networking group called BNI and am active on Meetup.com. I run my own group called Indianapolis Marketing and attend several others as well as Tech Point meetings, which are put on by a partnership with the State of Indiana. I use blogging to content market online, but that’s less successful than in-person networking for me. I’d be interested in hearing what you’re working on at work or in your ‘spare time’.