Building a side business - 3 lessons learned
Feb 23, 2017
About 5 years ago I have started my side business. https://thetrustcall.com has evolved from a money-burning and labor intense WordPress site to a profitable, fully automated Laravel application.
In order to get where we are today, my co-founder and me went through a very tough time. We have failed to maintain dozens of valuable business relationships with great people. We have had countless sleepless nights. We have burned a lot of money.
Here are 3 lessons learned along the way. Hopefully they are of value to you.
Lesson 1: Automate everything
A side business has to run on its own. You do not want to create yet another job for yourself. You need to build an automated system that has the potential to scale.
If customers have a question – do not just handle the request and call it "case closed". Instead, improve your product in a way that the question never comes up in the future again.
You have to follow this logic of product improvement constantly - otherwise your time gets eaten with internal operations. You don't want to double your work when your business revenue doubles.
Try not to work “inside” the business. Work “at” the business. 5 minutes of repetitive work every day adds up to 30 hours per year! Work on eliminating those 5 minutes wherever you can find them.
We had to learn this lesson the hard way. In the beginning, every transaction needed manual labor. We worked like crazy to get all the work done. Afterward, we hired interns to explain our service to customers – on the phone. We then got busy writing instruction-scripts and supervising interns. In the end, the interns did mundane, repetitive work and finally quit. So we had to find new people.
Get the product right. Thats the first objective. Improve until transactions are completely automatic. Don't let people to do repetitive tasks. Let machines do the repetition. Once your product generates enough revenue automatically, you can start to leverage by hiring people. Your hires will then work on building the business rather than fulfilling operations. Let your system do all of operations.
Lesson 2: Learn new approaches regularly
Every week, we asked suppliers for the amount of customers they could handle. We would whatsapp them every Sunday. Over the years, we learned how to give suppliers full control over the marketing traffic they receive through our platform. Today suppliers can simply turn a switch, a few API calls are made and customers magically appear.
This major jump in business maturity only occurred after we upped our skills on coding (PHP Laravel) and marketing (Google Adwords). We found alternative ways of doing things that brought immense value. Previously, we hadn't even been aware of those possibilities. You don't know what you don't know.
To sum up - you need to regularly learn new approaches of doing your thing. If you are an expert in Facebook ads, better spend a few hours a week learning other platforms such as Adwords, Spotify or Snapchat. Try to meet people who are already experts in those areas. You will see that those hours create much more value than the 100th optimization of your Facebook campaigns.
Lesson 3: Last but not least - persistence is key
Startups are very hard. You face an insane amount of problems. You work hours over hours but feel like there is no progress. Nothing seems to come out of your work.
You have to stay persistent. You have to solve every piece of the conversion funnel. You can have all the steps perfect and just fail at one problem – and you end with 0.
1 * 1 * 1 * 0 = 0
You have to get everything somewhat right. And this usually takes years. Most people give up. Don't give up. Find your deep reason why you need to keep improving your business - no matter how many problems you may have to solve. It is hard but not impossible. Never give up!