Book Cover image

Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling

Totally Scientific Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Get it on Amazon.

Book cover

Start Small, Stay Small by Rob Walling

Totally Scientific Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Get it on Amazon.

This Book in a Minute (Or Less)

Probably the most recommended blueprint to (micro)entrepreneurship. It's all about finding the smallest niche that supports the smallest solution you can build. Step-by-step, iterating and finding profitability without illusions of grandiose. It's not about making millions, but supporting the lifestyle you chose.

Summary Notes

Part 1 - The Chasm Between Developer and Entrepreneur

A Micropreneur is an entrepreneur who wants to remain solo. A specific lifestyle is the goal. A Bootstrapper, on the other hand, has a vision of something larger than a single-person venture.

If, and this is a gigantic "if", you start small and make a product so good that your niche is throwing money at you, word will spread and you will soon find yourself with a product that extends beyond the borders of your starting niche.

A Micropreneur creates software for a niche market and that has the advantage of going under the radar of large competitors. It gives you room to focus on your audience and build for that.

A key factor for the success of this type of entrepreneur is the ability to merge the technical side of product building with the marketing knowledge to sell it. It's a rare, winning, combo.

Why Building something that nobody wants is the most common source of failure for entrepreneurs.

Here are some "wrong" reasons to build a software product:

  • Having an idea
  • To get rich
  • Because it sounds fun

In the alternative, and to the surprise of no one, the "right" reasons depend on your goals, so be very deliberate in how you set them.

Truth is the first time someone pays you for your software it can be intoxicating.

It's critical to know what you want out of entrepreneurship, so you can make the right decisions along the way, and give something to hold onto when things don't go accordingly to plan.

"One short-term goal I propose? Strive to build a startup that generates $500 per month in profit".

The roadblocks in your path to a successful startup

You build something that no one needs.

You are afraid of failure. That's something normal for humans, especially, if you are trying it for the first time. It can also be good news, it can be a sign that you're going to grow as a person if you proceed through it.

You don't have a clear goal worth striving for. Every answer informing your product and startup must stem from your long-term desires and yourself. Play the infinite game!

You are applying an intermittent effort. It will 100% make you lose momentum and momentum is crucial to staying productive. Anytime you're on your computer ask yourself "Is this activity getting me closer to launch?".

You believe you have to do everything. The wheel was already invented most of the time and your time is your most precious resource. It might not feel a good idea to pay someone for something that you can do until you realize the economics of it.

"Work hard and play hard, but never do both simultaneously."

Be mindful of how you are supposed to be spending your time. Relaxing is ok, as is going all-in on your to-do list, so just be sure that if you are doing neither reflect and change the situation.

Part 2 - Why Niches Are the Name of the Game

Solving the problem of a niche might not put you on the front cover of magazines, but it can provide a very lucrative income.

Focusing on a niche requires a narrower product focus: The narrower you can make your product while maintaining a large enough market, the more profit you will generate.

Advertising is cheaper: the people with the problem you are solving will be easier to find and target, and besides, more often than not, niche markets are not used to good marketing.

Finding the right niche can be a matter of taking a second look at your hobbies, interests, and work experience. But here's a rule of thumb: Be extra-cautious if the market you are targeting doesn't seem to have more than a handful of websites or magazines dedicated to it, and the labor stats claim less than 10000 members.

How to reach the people in your niche

The best approach to reach your market is a hybrid of building an audience and SEO. On a supporting level, you can rely on content marketing, referrals, and viral marketing.

This is where it will pay off understanding human behavior, how people think and make buying decisions.

To help in this effort you should try to identify as soon as possible the existing demand for a given solution. These are the most effective channels for that:

  • speaking to the users directly;
  • monthly google searches for your keywords;
  • keyword suggestion tools;
  • keyword difficulty tools.

How to test a business idea for $100

The end result will be a simple website with analytics and AdWords setup. This will allow us to validate a simple assumption: if given the chance, people would buy our product.

  1. Chose the most interesting idea;
  2. Set up the site with four main pages: landing page, features, pricing and sign up;
  3. Include screenshots of your product (just HTML) on the landing page and on the features page, with a call to action to try/buy the product on every page;
  4. Create an AdWords campaign and send targeted traffic to your site;
  5. When someone clicks buy/try now, track that with AdWords and notify the prospect that the product is still in development;
  6. Ask for the email address so you can notify them once you launch;
  7. Include a "Coming Soon" emblem to not mislead prospects;
  8. If the prospect is interested and the product fits their needs, odds are they will still be interested in a few months when you launch;
  9. In the meantime, you get to obtain metrics and searches for your keywords, which of them convert, and what your expected conversion rate will be.

Part 3 - Your Product

If there is a successful formula for entrepreneurship is to get right these three dimensions: product, marketing, and execution.

First, you need to know you have a market and can execute, then you can improve your product. Inverting the order is the most common mistake of MVPs: too many features and too many months between the start of development and launch.

Tips to get your pricing right

  1. Know your market and how software is usually priced in that domain;
  2. Ask what you would pay for your solution;
  3. Look at how competitors present their pricing;
  4. Calculate the hourly rate of who will use your product, times how much time your product will save them, and priced accordingly;
  5. When in doubt lean towards higher pricing;
  6. End price in 7, 8, or 9;
  7. Split increasing benefits in increasingly priced tiers. Make sure that doubling the price means more than double the benefit;
  8. Test all the time and see how far you can push it.

Part 4 - Building a Killer Sales Website

A sales funnel is a metaphor for the several steps between someone surfing the internet and buying your product. People at different stages of the funnel expect different things from you to advance in the process of buying from you.

After you launch your website you will need to test different approaches, copy, buttons, and bonuses for each of the steps in the sales funnel.

When people get to your site, the number one objective must be turning these people into prospects. One of the ways to do it is by starting a relationship with your future customers, and using email can still have great returns.

Why should people provide you with their email

You need to prove three things:

  • you are trustworthy and will not give this email address to a third party or spam;
  • you are relevant to their interests, by providing information and updates that belong to the customer's domain;
  • you provide value and you give back in return for the email people provide.

Try to put yourself in the customer's shoes and imagine how he must feel when he arrives at your website. What are her motivations? What is expected to be found there for a positive decision to be made?

The seven rules for sale site design

  1. The home page is not necessarily the most visited page;
  2. Every page needs a call to action;
  3. Each page should serve a single purpose and contain nothing that distracts from that;
  4. Everything should be within 2 clicks;
  5. Accommodate people that read in different ways (skimmers vs every word);
  6. Make buttons super clickable;
  7. No one reads. Audio, video, and images are always better.

Part 5 - Startup

Strategies like building an audience, SEO, and participating in niche communities have far more impact on your overall marketing success than any other new media tool. Of course, the trick is to evaluate every marketing approach through the lens of the market where you are planning to use it. How well you know this market will directly impact how well you can pick strategies to exploit it.

You can focus your energy on driving high-quality sources of traffic to your site and analytics tools can help you make sense of who is visiting and what they might looking for.

"It's nice to have thousands of people visiting your site, but if they don't convert, they may as well have not shown up at all."

The two tiers of internet traffic

There are the "top-shelf" strategies:

  • Mailing list;
  • Blogs and podcasts;
  • Organic search.

In a second, maybe not so effective, level of strategies, you have:

  • Social media;
  • Adwords;
  • Forums;
  • Press releases;
  • Guest posts.

The bottom line is while those strategies on the second level might seem more fun, it's the top self strategies that really sustain a business.

Mailing lists

Mailing lists are the most effective marketing tool. It's a requirement for startups.

Blogs and podcasts

The choice for blog, podcast, etc., depends on the type of media your market niche consumes.

Blogging has the advantage of catering to both your audience and the search engines:

  • it constantly updates with new content making into more relevant for Google rankings;
  • Google likes large quantities of content;
  • Google likes individual pages that focus on a theme;
  • Google likes link structures such as archive pages.

Blogging for an audience implies writing a steady stream of unique, interesting posts. Perhaps more importantly it brings the power of compounding effects: you write once, but the value of it keeps on giving through time.

SEO is the science of optimizing your website to improve its rankings in search engines and it's mandatory. You should create a keyword list, for which you want to rank on Google and perform on-page SEO. Then you can focus your efforts on link-building strategies.

Part 6 - Virtual Assistants and Outsourcing

This is how you make time. Either to think about and operate the most critical parts of your business or extract yourself from it.

"What are some processes I can automate?" is a mindset you should adopt when launching a product. This implies judging if you need to automate something, so you are not wasting time automating stuff for fun, or that runs only once every three years. As always, there is a relevant xkcd.

"As a startup, one of your main advantages is that you can move very quickly and manually process a task can reduce your dev time by 50-80%, which allows you to get the feature out the door and in front of customers."

Any ongoing work that can be described in a written process can be outsourced. Don't fall into the trap of needing to handle everything yourself. You are now an entrepreneur.

Part 7 - Grow It or Start Over

Most startups that achieve early success find themselves in the chasm: early adopters are using your product and you are trying to solve the puzzle of mass adoption.

Hopefully, once you get to this particularly challenging phase, you will know more about customers than you ever thought possible.

You have a decision to make, and that's is to figure out how to automate your business or if you should sell it. That's an awesome problem to have. It means you achieved something even if it's not your wildest dreams.

If you enjoyed this, there are many others to come.

This Week's Worth preamble

This is my (almost) weekly newsletter.

You should consider be part of it to stay on top of new articles and other stuff I have yet to figure out. Yup, I'm improvising here.