If I knew what it took to build a million-dollar online business when I first started, I probably would have done something easier. But not knowing how to do it was the best part about starting. It’s hard to find what it is you want to do, sell, and what you are really passionate about. When I was working as a teenager just outside of Portland, Oregon, as a tech support agent for ID card printers, I didn’t think my passion would be badge holders and accessories. That wasn’t the coolest idea of what I thought I would dedicate my life to.
But there is something amazing about being challenged every day, innovating, learning and finding out how to add value to a competitive market. You need that youthful, naïve, fearless entrepreneur spirit, and listening to a seasoned veteran may just scare you from ever starting. So don’t think about how to do it, think about why you want it and just start now.
Learning to Be the Best at What You Love to Do
These days, almost anyone can start a business, but how do you make one last? In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, he gets into the science of transforming a company from a mediocre one into a business that “can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise.” This means, as a business owner, you should strive to be the best in the world at what you’re doing. I know this is a bold claim. Being the best in the world? For me, that was my “aha” moment. Once you do find that “thing” that you either love to do, or know you can and will be the best at, you need to find a way to market it as a product or service. Chances are, you already have competition, so the key is to present it in a way that is unlike any others in your industry. I developed the mindset that my business had to set itself apart from competitors and even other industries, so I took these three steps.
- Glamorize your product. When we first started Specialist ID, we were trying to compete for the biggest and most glamorous security products: big ticket items that required lots of capital, technical staff and resources. We focused on the badge accessories, the least attractive products in our industry and made them appealing. Whether your product is sexy or not, you want it to pop off a computer screen and grab your customer’s attention.
- Take tips from businesses that work. Even if they’re not a competitor, take the time to look at what other businesses are or aren’t doing, and do it. For example, Zappos does an amazing job describing their products with great photos and video. So our team set out to be the “Zappos of badge holders.”
- Cross-Pollinate. Harvard Business Professor Lee Fleming states in his article, “Perfecting Cross-Pollination,” that breakthroughs that arise from multidisciplinary work “are frequently of unusually high value—superior to the best innovations achieved by conventional approaches.” Cross-pollinating is worth the effort because the results that are achieved — as sparse as they might be — usually contribute a significant amount of profit for your company.
Patrick Barnhill is an undercover geek and founder of Specialist ID, a leading brand/distributor of Photo ID Badge Accessories.
BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.