New here. My story of failure and future plans.

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Hey everyone. I recently discovered BuSo and figured I would drop in and introduce myself.

What drew me to this forum was the focus on building a real, sustainable online business. I want to create something with longevity, purpose, and a huge financial upside. Not just chase fast money. Being completely beholden to the SEO gods or churn-and-burn blackhat tactics never really sat well with me.

There also seems to be a strong technical focus here which fits in nicely with my (somewhat mediocre) web dev skillset.

I gained a lot of value from going over the crash course and the in-your-face posts by @CCarter. I also read most of this post and man, there was some tough love in there. A lot of which was relevant to my previous mindset and entitlement issues. Great stuff.

Anyway, I want to take some time to discuss my business journey thus far, what I've learned from all my failures, and the general plan I have moving forward.

My Online Business Background

I've been immersed in the online business world off-and-on since late 2013. Yep, that long. Over the years, I've started a bunch of different blogs, web apps, products, and services, including but not limited to:
  • Freelance web design and copywriting
  • Local lead gen with Google ads
  • Flipping items from CL on eBay
  • Selling info products on social media
  • Multiple blogs and niche sites
  • Multiple eCommerce and physical product brands
  • Multiple B2C web apps
In most cases, I either lost interest in those projects or didn't do proper market research and they fizzled out. Most of them were failures financially except for the freelancing and flipping which I've made a few $k from over the years.

Some of the projects got a decent amount of traction from an initial marketing push. However, they were either in a bad market or simply didn't fill enough of a need due to a lack of market research.

Not Wanting It Bad Enough

That brings us to the present day.

Here I am, ~8 years into the game (off-and-on) with very little progress to show for it (besides some beer money, skills, and knowing what not to do).

Depressing, yet humbling at the same time.

I'm not here to complain. In fact, I'm done being a victim of my circumstances. I'm finally at a point where I'm ready to take responsibility for my life and find a way to support myself outside of a typical job. No more excuses.

Here's why I think I've failed in the past...

I discovered the world of online business when I was just 18 years old. Back then, I was an immature college kid who liked the idea of starting a business but wasn't willing to put in the necessary work. I still had my parent's safety net and hadn't been punched in the mouth by life yet.

Ultimately, I just didn't want it bad enough.

After college, I got a job in IT support and hated every second of it. I really only started getting serious about making this online business thing a reality once I realized how much I despised the 9-5 corporate life. I knew from the jump that life wasn't for me, but going through the grind day after day really solidified it for me.

Still, that safety net of the bi-weekly paycheck kept me locked in a cage with golden handcuffs for a few years while I half-assed different ideas. I felt stuck.

Quitting My Job, Where I am Today

A few months ago, I got fed up with the direction my life was going and quit my job on a whim thinking that would kick me into gear. I decided to move back into my parent's house at age 26 to regroup (which turned out to be one of the worst mistakes of my life).

I've been here for a few months now and having access to that safety net again has had the complete opposite effect. Granted, I've gotten back into learning Django web dev and kept my skills fresh, but that's about all I've accomplished.

Long story short, my parents think I've gone completely off the rails and that I'm throwing my life away.

We fight almost every day and I'm basically a loser to my family until I get a job again. They are embarrassed to tell their friends about my situation, yet they refuse to kick me out of the house because they think I can't support myself without a job.

This helped me realize that I need to take responsibility over my own life and throw myself into the deep end. I want to start fresh in a new city away from all the noise and negativity. Just pure drive and focus.

I'm done living for other people. It's sink or swim for me at this point.

So moving out again is now my #1 priority.

Currently, I have 2-3 years of living expenses saved up from my 9-5 so finances aren't really a problem as of yet. I should have just gone all in when I quit my job in the first place but hey...hindsight is 20/20.

My New Plan / Direction

That begs the question: how will I support myself moving forward?

I'm an okay developer, but web dev is simply a means to an end for me. I can't imagine ever getting a full-time job doing it. I would be miserable.

I'm also not that interested in pursuing the freelance grind long-term. While it has its upsides like skill development, it feels like just another job to me.

Worst case scenario, I run out of money and have to do some freelance work or get a job at an agency. But that discussion is for another day.


Here's what does pique my interest...

I've always enjoyed strategizing and brainstorming ideas for brands.

I love the idea of picking a vertical, niching down, and building a brand around a specific customer profile. Then running point on getting traffic to my site from various sources, slowly growing the brand and building equity in it. I'm specifically interested in B2C.

So I thought about what that means for my future plans and came to the following conclusion...

I need to get really good at audience building.

I've been doing this whole thing backwards all along: starting with the product without having a plan for who I'm building for or how I'm going to reach them.

So audience building is key. Whether that's organically on social media, traffic leaking from 3rd party platforms, or running ads. Everything needs to be centered around building a native list of customers and selling to them.

This is the type of stuff that gets me excited about online business again. Sure, I'll focus a bit on SEO best practices as well but the idea of choosing a niche based on SEO potential is a strategy of the past imo.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been focusing on improving my web dev skills as of late. Why?

I want to build websites that are useful to my chosen market, further incentivizing them to engage with my brand. Basically, building useful microservices. Tools, quizzes, calculators, toplists; whatever is useful to my ideal customer.

Couple that with niche-specific content repackaged across mediums and I think this could be the perfect strategy for me moving forward.

Obviously, a monetization plan is key as well. I just need to figure out what types of products I can improve upon that solve a problem for that market. That would ideally be physical products, software, a community, or info products. Whatever fits the bill.

But that happens over time through research and actually engaging with the market.

What's Holding Me Back

The biggest issue I've always had is being confident in my niche selection and falling victim to shiny object syndrome. I feel that I'm not really an expert in any given topic. I'm more of a jack-of-all-trades, so how could I build a site about something I'm not an expert on? The topics I am well-versed in aren't exactly commercially appealing.

But I know I just need to do my due diligence / market research, pick something, and learn along the way. Even if it's in a relatively saturated market. I'm pretty confident that once I jump into the deep end I'll be able to make some good progress as long as I stay focused.

So that's my plan so far. Let me know what you think, or if I'm completely missing the mark. Hopefully being part of this community will help provide some accountability and make this journey a little less difficult. And I will do my best to share value in return.

I appreciate you reading my story and look forward to interacting with other likeminded people here.

-BE
 

Ryuzaki

お前はもう死んでいる
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Welcome, @BrandEngineer, glad to have you aboard.

You've learned four important things when it comes to the entrepreneurial life:
  1. Being pushed away from pain isn't a strong enough motivator, but it's a good start.
  2. Complacency kills all motivation.
  3. Being pulled towards desire is the only motivator strong enough to keep you going.
  4. Motivation doesn't mean jack shit. Discipline is king.
You've got balls and an obvious big brain. I see no reason you can't win, except a lack of discipline and really understanding the landscape before you start.

I've been doing this whole thing backwards all along: starting with the product without having a plan for who I'm building for or how I'm going to reach them.

^ This is the understanding of the landscape before you start. (Check out the Digital Strategy Crash Course if you haven't). But I'm going to disagree with your quote above.

You should start at the conversion. Finding an audience and then creating demand is a million times harder than filling an existing demand. By starting at the bottom of the conversion funnel, you can work your way back outwards, optimizing as you go. Then when you hit the top of the funnel and are trying to collect an audience, you're finding those who want and need exactly what you have.

Once you have that audience it's easy to launch new products or services to them because you know what makes them tick. But that's a hot, refined audience, the kind you won't really have if you start at the top of the funnel. Once you start disqualifying your leads, you'll find out how many are window shoppers and tire kickers.

It's definitely a chicken and the egg thing though. Because to formulate the product or service that's being demanded you do need to understand an audience and their needs to some degree. I'm not trying to contradict you. I just think that when you're actually in the trenches doing these things, there's a thousand other variables that work out better when you start at the conversion.

The biggest issue I've always had is being confident in my niche selection and falling victim to shiny object syndrome. I feel that I'm not really an expert in any given topic. I'm more of a jack-of-all-trades, so how could I build a site about something I'm not an expert on? The topics I am well-versed in aren't exactly commercially appealing.

Saturation is a good thing, by the way. But shiny object syndrome is easy to put to rest. It happens when you don't believe in what you're doing and don't believe in yourself, and you're chasing easy, get rich quick fantasies.

It's easy to not be confident when you're not an expert. That's literally how everyone starts. That gets solved in time by simple involvement in your project. In the mean time, you know enough to get it started and then can hire experts.

And yeah, don't chase anything that's not commercially appealing. You need to create a business, not a hobby. People spend a lot of money on hobbies, but you're saying it's not commercially appealing, and also that's the fastest way for you to start to hate your hobby (turning it into a job).

You're 1000x better off choosing one thing and seeing it through to completion, whether that's success, failure, break even, liquidation, whatever. If you don't go all the way in and all the way through, you won't have a clue how to understand the viability of a niche and audience.

You can do it. I think you just need to get in the trenches and not ride the bench watching the game get played (meaning choosing a niche or angle and starting and then quitting). Play the full game to the final inning. You'll learn enough to start stacking up big wins at that point.

Best of luck, glad to have you, and I hope you stick around and keep having conversations with us.
 
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It's definitely a chicken and the egg thing though. Because to formulate the product or service that's being demanded you do need to understand an audience and their needs to some degree. I'm not trying to contradict you. I just think that when you're actually in the trenches doing these things, there's a thousand other variables that work out better when you start at the conversion.
That makes a lot of sense. I agree there needs to be a balance between defining an audience and monetization considerations.

Yeah, now that I think about it building an audience aimlessly is probably a lot more difficult than building one around people who are the most likely to buy from you. I kind of took it from one extreme to another there.

I think what I was trying to say is that I need to take the audience into consideration along with the niche and monetization strategy to have a full plan before getting started. It's kind of impossible to define which comes first like you said as they're both key aspects of the due diligence process.

And yeah, don't chase anything that's not commercially appealing. You need to create a business, not a hobby. People spend a lot of money on hobbies, but you're saying it's not commercially appealing, and also that's the fastest way for you to start to hate your hobby (turning it into a job).

You're 1000x better off choosing one thing and seeing it through to completion, whether that's success, failure, break even, liquidation, whatever. If you don't go all the way in and all the way through, you won't have a clue how to understand the viability of a niche and audience.

You can do it. I think you just need to get in the trenches and not ride the bench watching the game get played (meaning choosing a niche or angle and starting and then quitting). Play the full game to the final inning. You'll learn enough to start stacking up big wins at that point.
The whole "build a business around your hobby" paradigm is tough because there are definitely people out there who have had success doing this. And it's not like my hobbies are all commercially irrelevant. There may be an angle in there I'm not seeing.

For example, I'm big into a few different sports, games, and a niche music genre. But I have other less passionate interests in the health/fitness, technology and self-improvement spaces which may lend themselves better to monetization.

The problem is, a lot of hobbies kind of box you into a small subset of the market. i.e. if I were to create a site about X sport, that's part of the sports vertical. But expanding to Y sport wouldn't bode well for audience alignment. Unlike fitness where you can start out writing about nutrition, then expand to weight training and still target the same audience (i.e. nerds trying to get in shape).

You're 1000x better off choosing one thing and seeing it through to completion, whether that's success, failure, break even, liquidation, whatever. If you don't go all the way in and all the way through, you won't have a clue how to understand the viability of a niche and audience.

You can do it. I think you just need to get in the trenches and not ride the bench watching the game get played (meaning choosing a niche or angle and starting and then quitting). Play the full game to the final inning. You'll learn enough to start stacking up big wins at that point.
That's my #1 problem right there. The combo of 1). Not wanting it bad enough and 2). Chasing fast money, is a recipe for failure. And if you quit too early you gain surface level knowledge on how to start but never really learn the valuable lessons that lead to big wins.

I really appreciate the reply. This has given me a lot to think about as I make the jump into a new project.
 
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Alright guys, quick update. Since I can't post outside of the orientation forum yet I'll just throw it here instead. I'll make an official progress thread once I've committed to an idea and started working on it.

Current Action Items:
  • Going through the full crash course and taking notes. I want to absorb it in its entirety first so I can form a solid plan of attack from every angle. Currently halfway through
  • Defining my mission/purpose, writing down goals, strengths and weaknesses, current assets etc.
  • Starting to think about a vertical / niche / product / monetization strategy to go after
  • Moving out and planning which city I want to land in
What I Don't Want
I know for sure that I don't want to do agency / consulting work, despite this being the best approach for immediate cash flow. Remember, I don't have any income coming in at the moment (just a safety net of close to six figures). I've tried to commit to agency work in the past but burned out because deep down I knew I was just creating another job for myself.

I also don't want to create an MFA / affiliate site, rely heavily on SEO, or sell digital courses. So a site with a primary focus around Information / Entertainment (from day 9 - Monetization) is also out of the question.

Remaining Options
That leaves selling my own products (software or physical eCommerce) or lead generation, basically.

Lead Generation
Assets
: I had some brief success in the past generating leads with Google Ads, and a family member who owns a local service business. I'm also great at creating landing pages with copy that convert well for these types of sites. Along with some basic local SEO knowledge.

Challenges: Local SEO is starting to get cannibalized by search ads and GMB restrictions are tightening. I would either need to focus on paid lead gen or find a way to register legit GMBs. Otherwise it's getting into service business territory instead of PPL-style lead gen. I'm sure there is more to lead gen than local though, I'm just not too well-researched on that front yet. Maybe I'll look into it.

Software
Assets: My development skills are currently at the lower end of intermediate. I do a mix of backend and frontend - Django for backend and Hugo for static sites. I can definitely build and deploy a basic MVP in a few months time.

Challenges: I don't know if I'm a solid enough developer yet to build a fully-functional SaaS product that's better than what's out there. I'm sure this is just a limiting belief though, as there's nothing stopping me from hiring devs to fill in my gaps of knowledge. Maybe niching down is the answer. I also don't have much industry-specific expertise aside from online/tech stuff, which may pose as a challenge.


Physical eCommerce
Assets
: This is what I believe to be the best combination for my skillset and what gets me the most excited. I have built ecom storefronts before and understand the basics of how to source product. I also think my marketing skillset lends itself better to consumer products. I'm a branding geek and love planning that aspect of a business.

Challenges: What worries me with physical products is cash flow. I'm hearing from a lot of ecom store owners (who carry inventory, not dropshipping), that most of your cash flow goes back into inventory and there isn't a lot of opportunity to pull cash out of the business to live on while it grows. Plus, Facebook ad privacy changes have been nuking a lot of DTC brands paid traffic strategies from what I can see on Twitter (which could be an opportunity in and of itself). Not complaining about these things, just some observations I made.

Closing Thoughts
Those are just some of the ideas running through my head right now as I go through the crash course. Ultimately the monetization strategy is going to depend on the niche I choose so maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. Oh well, time to get back to work.