What can you learn about business from a seven-year-old? A surprising amount, it turns out. Step into my time machine and you’ll see for yourself.
I remember the first business I ever started. It was a movie theater. Yes, a movie theater. But it wasn’t your regular home movie theater. Back then, VCRs didn’t exist in my world. In fact, it would be a few years before I would even see a VCR in person. Forget about handheld video cameras too.
I was about seven-years-old and knew I wanted to make movies. Since the technology we have today wasn’t available, the only way I knew how to do that was to create my own movie theater. The closest thing I could find to what I was actually doing were these shadow puppets.
Basically, I had made a box with a cutout for a paper “screen” and made cardboard cutouts of my movie stars and props (Jaws and Superman were featured in my movie theater), which I controlled via strings taped to the back of the cutouts. To allow my character to project a shadow on the screen, I lit a candle a few inches behind the screen. Yeah, I know, kids played with fire and did other things parents would be arrested for if their kids tried them today. Thinking back on it, it’s a miracle my shirt sleeves didn’t catch on fire.
My “movie” screen was about a quarter of the size of this one.
In any event, this entrepreneurial adventure offered me four valuable lessons that would take me years to relearn as an adult. Which I will now share with you:
#1 – Hype Your Event/Product Before Your Product Launches
Before I’d even shown the first movie, I thought to print “movie tickets” and tell everyone about it. I started selling them in advance and telling the kids in the neighborhood about the movies I was planning to show and all the cool scenes it would have. Basically, it was a “word of mouth” trailer. By talking – and offering the event beforehand, I knew there was interest in the movies I was going to show.
When selling a product, don’t just dump it on people. Talk about what you want to do, why you think it would be great for potential buyers, and how it is different from what’s out there already. By letting people know it’s coming, you gain valuable feedback as to whether there’s interest in what you have to offer and what are people’s expectations of your product.
#2 – It’s OK to Pre-Sell
I didn’t cut out a single cardboard figure until I sold a few tickets before the show. Not that I needed the cash to produce the movies, but it was a nice incentive.
If you’ve done a good job creating your product and have properly described it to people, there’s no reason why you can’t sell your product before you produce it. In fact, if there isn’t enough interest, or you don’t gather enough clients, you can cancel the project altogether and refund people their money. Granted, this is not ideal, but if you’ve done a good job during step one, you’ll probably get a good rate of response to make the project worth your while.
#3 – Set a Product Launch Date – Even If You’re Not at 100%
Showtime was fast approaching and I was still tinkering with the “movie” set. There were more “characters” I wanted to create and make the movie longer. But once I had the neighborhood kids seated, there wasn’t any more time to tinker. I had to show the movies using the props I had. And it all turned out fine.
Too often, people stop themselves from launching their product because they want to get it “just right”. Let me tell you, there’s no such thing as 100% perfect. I bet if you ask every entrepreneur, in confidence, they’ll tell you there’s more stuff they wish they added to their product, or thought some sections required a bit more tweaking. You want your product to be perfect? Launch at 80% and wait for feedback. Customers – the ones whose advice you need to listen to anyway – will let you know if there’s an area that was lacking. You’ll be surprised there often isn’t one.
#4 – Know When to Fight Competition and When to Get Out
After a few successful runs and a packed house, the copycats moved in. The rich neighbor a few houses down decided to open up his own movie theater. Only he priced his movies cheaper and gave out free refreshments. That’s when I decided to close up shop. At that point it wasn’t a business worth running, as I wasn’t going to spend my earnings entertaining AND feeding the neighborhood kids. Soon enough, the neighbor figured out it wasn’t cool to spend all his money buying snacks for everyone, and when the snacks stopped coming, so did the other kids.
It’s almost guaranteed that, no matter how tiny the niche you’re in, you’ll find competition. You can choose to be better. You can choose to be different.
What I don’t recommend is that you choose to give it all away, all the time. Because at that point it’s not a business anymore. You’re just the guy that gives stuff away for free. And when people get used to free, it’s often hard to turn them into customers. You’ve effectually set the value of what you can offer at $0, so it’s hard – not impossible – to change that perception down the road, as some people will resist that. You need to learn to practice strategic generosity.
The main idea I want you to take away is that you need to be bold and put your product ideas out there. Don’t spend your time trying to build something in hopes that it will sell. Instead, tell people about it and watch their reaction. Even if you don’t get the product 100% how you want it, there’s always the opportunity to update and improve down the road.
Remember, “free” doesn’t put food on the table of funds a travel lifestyle. If you want your blog to be a business, run it like one.
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