zen habits : breathe

My Advice for Starting a Business

By Leo Babauta

Recently I encouraged my 13-year-old daughter Maia to start a vegan cupcake business, and it’s so exciting to watch her get started.

As I talked to her about starting, she had some worries:

Do any of those sound familiar? Those were my worries too, when I had a day job and thought about building something of my own.

Worry about not knowing what to do, how to do it, and whether you’ll fail … these stop so many people from starting.

I’ve launched numerous ventures, from ebooks to courses to my Sea Change membership program and more. Next week, I’m launching a new video interview series called The Habits of Entrepreneurs, and can barely wait to show it to you.

Today, I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned about starting a business, in hopes of encouraging you to get started making something you love.

  1. Look for opportunities. This is from my friend Hiten Shah, who will be featured in the Habits of Entrepreneurs series. Keep your eyes open for opportunities — what pain points do people have, what problems need to be solved, how can you make people’s lives better?
  2. If you can’t wait to get started, you’re onto something. Every time I’ve gotten my best ideas, I get excited. I tell people about it. I might even stay up at night thinking about it. I can’t sit down for long from the excitement.
  3. Start small. People try to build their new business into a massive launch, but this is a mistake. Start as small as possible, giving a minimum viable product to a few friends, and let them test it out. Then a few more people. When you try to do something massive at launch, you make it less likely that you’ll actually start, and you’ll take forever to launch, and you’ll build yourself up for failure, and you’re building something massive without any idea of whether it works or if people like it. Launch is just one moment in the lifespan of a business, and it’s not even one of the most important moments.
  4. Not starting is the biggest mistake. I told Maia that the worst-case scenario — if the business fails — is not even bad. If she starts the vegan cupcake business and fails, at least she got to make and eat some delicious cupcakes, and share them with friends, and learn some valuable lessons along the way. She can always start something new after that. In fact, this scenario of learning something and having fun along the way, even in “failure”, is demonstrably better than if she’d not started at all.
  5. Start a blog. The best way to market a business is by giving away free information. Show that you’re valuable, help people for free, and they’ll want more from you.
  6. Don’t do SEO or social media market or viral marketing. Those don’t add any value for your customers.
  7. Instead, be super valuable. Build something great, and word of mouth is all the marketing you need (including people passing on your best blog posts). Overdeliver. They’ll love you, and you won’t need to do slimy SEO techniques.
  8. Start lean. I started my businesses with zero money, and just found free or cheap services to start with. Only after I started making some revenue did I pay for anything, or hire anyone. Make money as soon as possible by selling something valuable.
  9. Advertising is a bad business model. When you make money from ads, what are you selling? Your audience’s attention. This is horrible, and your audience/customers won’t love you for it. Instead, do everything possible to delight your audience/customers, and give them incredible value, and they’ll gladly pay for it.
  10. Forget about numbers. More specifically, forget about hitting certain targets. A million pageviews, ten thousand subscribers, half a million in revenues. Those are meaningless and arbitrary. Instead, worry about how much you’re helping your customers. How much value are you giving them? How can you make them smile? Try putting some numbers on those things.
  11. The joy doesn’t come later. Lots of times people kill themselves trying to reach a goal, or hit an amazing launch. They hope that achieving this goal will change their lives. Then they get there, and their lives aren’t different. They move on to the next goal. The joy doesn’t come when you hit the goal, or have an amazing launch. The joy comes right now. This is the moment of greatness, of satisfaction with yourself and what you’re doing. Not later.
  12. Forget perfection. Too many people get caught up in trying to make a product, website, blog post, launch, etc. perfect. It’ll never be perfect. Perfection is stopping you from shipping. Instead, do what you can, get it out there, get feedback, improve it, repeat.
  13. Screw the business plan. Planning, like perfection, is useless and stands in your way. Sure, you want to think things through, but planning is based on faulty information (we can’t know the future). Instead, experiment. Get started. Do. Then see what happens, and adjust. Flexibility is much more important than a good plan.
  14. Start from home, and start with friends. You don’t need to have an office for most businesses … even a cupcake business doesn’t need a shop — at least not at first. Start with no extra money, in your spare time if you have to. Let your first customers be your friends, and ask them to be brutally honest. Then let them spread the word to their friends. That’s a Zero-Dollar Launch.
  15. Focus on important things. Too often people get caught up in statistics, social media, lots of little tasks that don’t matter. Instead, get moving on what matters most — producing something that will add value to your customers.
  16. Surround yourself with interesting people. Having friends who are doing fascinating things is inspiring, and they will give you great advice and feedback. The people around you, and their positive and inspiring attitudes, matter.
  17. Learn to be OK with not knowing. You won’t know what will happen with the business. The world is changing. Your business will change. You will change. You don’t know anything, really, and that’s OK. Read more.

Get started, my friends! You’ll love it.

The Habits of Entrepreneurs

My new video interview series launches Monday:

Why is this series important?

  1. Inspiration: these are fascinating entrepreneurs doing amazing things.
  2. Habits matter — what you do daily creates your business.
  3. Building habits is hard — seeing how others create habits helps overcome obstacles.

More soon!



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