Online Business Minimalism

Online Business Minimalism: Why Thinking Big Might Be a Bad Idea?

In the late 1980s, the first internet service provider companies were formed. Only after a few years, in 1995, the last restrictions on the use of the Internet were removed and this new thing began to transport commercial traffic. While some enjoyed electronic mail, instant messaging, and sloppy video calls, others saw the World Wide Web as an opportunity to do business.

It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity and start their own online companies. Low initial investments and virtually no cap on the market was something few people understood in the beginning. The average person was skeptical and thought that this new trend won’t last long. The average person was wrong.

In 1994, Amazon.com started operating. Initially, this online store began by only selling books. Later, it began selling everything. Nowadays, Jeff Bezos, the founder, chairman, CEO, and president of Amazon is the world richest man.1

But Amazon is just a sample. There are hundreds of thousands of online businesses thriving in the World Wide Web today. Some sell courses, other music, third are just for fun. What excites us about all these companies is that they make it sound so easy. So easy to start. They whisper to us “you can do it” and we comply.

I bet you that at some point in your life, you were considering starting your own online business – probably you even started one before. After the Industrial Revolution and later the Information Age, we’re now living in the Entrepreneurial period. Big corporations no longer dominate the market. Individuals do.

Influencers are the new role models and it’s easy to start dreaming about becoming big like Casey Neistat, Marques Brownlee (MKBHD), or even founding a company with the intention to make it as big as Amazon or Facebook.

And while thinking big is the new dogma a lot of people live by, it probably won’t work for you.

Why Thinking Big Might Be a Bad Idea?

Usually, nobody wants to wait a few months to see results from the work they do, not to mention a few years. That’s why, a lot of the entrepreneurs push their limits to the maximum. They get big loans, hire a lot of people, look for outside investors and start hustling so they can enter the market with a bang.

For some, being small is an insult. They want big numbers and a lot of clients from the get-go. The bigger the number, the more impressive, professional, and powerful they sound to the outside people.

But aiming for starting big, and getting even bigger is wrong for a couple of reasons:

You’re Not In Control

If you look for outside investors, if you look for partners, if you take a loan from the bank, you’ll eventually work for someone else and you’ll lose the control. Since investors don’t care about your grand idea, or about the core mission of your project – they only care about ROI – you’ll have to comply when they say we’ll do X, not Y. The same is true when you bring more people to the team. More people means more opinions, more arguments, thus lack of agreement.

You Lose Focus

You can easily get distracted by “what should be the decoration of your new office.” Or “what kind of equipment I need to get before I start.” The key word in starting an online business is that’s it’s online. Meaning, you don’t necessarily need an office. Or even if you need one, it doesn’t have to be big. You can work from home and you can start with what you have. Also, you surely don’t need a brand new laptop, or a dozen of useless devices to create a website. No one knows from what type of computer, or from where you’re publishing the articles on your site. You might be sitting in a 5-star hotel and typing on a brand new MacPro. Or, punching the keys on your rusty old machine from your basement. People won’t care, they’ll care only about the final result.

You Get Overwhelmed

When you’re getting bigger, or when you’re starting big – you’ll want a lot of products, you’ll want to reach to everyone, you’ll want everything to be perfect – you’ll undoubtedly burnout. Decisions will pile up. Customers will want refunds because your products will suffer from the growing trend. You’ll have to deal with all kind of stuff and eventually, your mental and physical health will suffer.

You’ll Forget Why You’ve Started

You’ve probably heard the expression that “big companies don’t care about their customers.” In a way, this is inevitable. At some point, you see only numbers, you won’t recognize individuals. You see 10,000 new customers but you don’t know anything about them. Not that you always should, but getting bigger usually distance you from your original idea. If creating eco-friendly backpacks was your initial goal, with each new board meeting and each new office you’ll probably slowly begin to forget your mission. Your focus will change from environmentalist to a person who wants a bigger market share and he‘ll be willing to betray his beliefs.

While being the chairman of a big company sounds sexy, the above things will surely happen if you’re not ready. So, if you’re just starting, or your company is not performing as good as you wanted, it’s probably a good idea to scale down and a pinch of minimalism into your business mix:

Online Business Minimalism

Before we even register a domain, or we think about launching our digital product, we think that we need to have everything in place – all the systems, all the tools, a bunch of people hired. We want everything to be perfect before showing it to the world, before posting it. However, the time we spent polishing the perfect article, or the perfect product is a waste of time. Instead, we can embrace minimalism. We can start small and slowly climb. Publish what we have and improve it later.

Minimalism is mostly recognized as a lifestyle or art movement. “You must live with less than 100 things,” they say. “You’re not allowed to own a car, television or have friends.” Such things famous minimalist bloggers put to the world to gain more attention from their readers. But there is more to that. Minimalism is not a path attached to a certain domain. It’s a way of thinking that states something like this: “Defining what’s essential by removing the fluff, in order to focus on what’s truly important.”

This dogma, if we may call it like that, can be implemented everywhere. Including in business.

For instance, a lot can be borrowed from how Leo Babauta defines minimalism: “It’s simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life.”2

Here are a few ideas that will help you build a long-lasting online business that will endure the competition and help you remain true to your original goal:

Start Small

Start with what you have. You don’t need an office, a new computer, a new camera, a printer, or to worry about business cards. You don’t need 100 products either. You can start with the smallest version of your idea – 1 product – and make it the best product out there.

Add Constraints

In theory, you can be and build whatever you want online. You can call yourself a guru and lunch 50 products. But trying to do a couple of things all at once, trying to please everyone, hoping this way you’ll become a kick-ass entrepreneur is a stupid decision altogether.

Adding constraints to the mix will help you evaluate ideas and assist you when you make decisions. You need to say No, more often than you think. Consider yourself a curator. An editor. Big fashion brands don’t put all of their merch on the window display. They carefully select their best pieces and remove everything else. You should follow this logic in the beginning and beyond.

Define Success

What does success mean to you? Having a big house, a big car, working in a corner office? All these things are “nice to have.” A lot of people dream about wearing suits and owning a private jet. But a lot of people don’t understand what’s involved in this type of lifestyle, also, how long this takes to happen. Besides all the luxuries, rockstar success also involves long hours, not seeing your children, even potentially divorcing your partner.3

But instead of living to work, you can build a life around your work. A work that will give you enough time with your friends and family. A type of business that feels fulfilling and at the same time doesn’t consume your life. So, before you start, think about these things:
“What type of life do I want?” and “How do I want to spend my days?” Work backwards from there and figure out a business model that allows you to create a system that satisfies your desired lifestyle.

Focus On One Product And The Customer

Expanding the portfolio is usually what investors will say. Since they want bigger dividends, they’re looking for ways to cover more of the market. But expanding a portfolio involves a lot of costs, to say the least. You need to get new machines, hire more staff, train that staff to understand the new product, rent bigger storage to maintain quantities, market the new product, etc.

Instead, you can focus on improving your main product. You can make it better, slimmer, add extra touches. The aim here will be to pamper your existing customers. To give them more for their money. This way, you can align with the values of a smaller, more specific group of people, who will later become your ambassadors.

You Don’t Need Huge Capital

If your idea requires a briefcase full of money, you’re probably thinking too big. A lot of people relate businesses with enormous investments. But lack of resources can be healthy. When you don’t have a lot of money to spend, you’re basically forced to find an alternative solution to a problem. You’re forced to think better. This can unlock your true creative power and allow you to find a better way to solve a problem.

Virtually everyone can start a business with an investment of 1 million. But few will thrive to enjoy their newly founded company mostly because they won’t put soul in the product they’re making.

Besides, spending someone else’s money is addictive and often leads to larger depts and less real revenue.

Solve One Problem

It is tempting to want to solve all the problems in the world. To dream about a bigger audience and a larger market share. But dreaming about more fans and more satisfied customers by wanting to solve all of their problems is unrealistic. Some people will hate your product, and that’s OK. It means that others are fond of what you offer.

If you want a decent paycheck and a long-term business, the best route is to solve one specific problem for one set of people. Do it as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. You can later refine the process and the product.

Sound Like You

Don’t expect to win people’s trust if what you write sounds like a robot wrote it. People can smell from afar artificial friendliness. You don’t have to sound like a presidential campaign to gain followers. You need to sound like you.

Being honest, friendly, and genuine with people, especially online is the key to success. Don’t afraid to be you in everything you do.

Help Customers Succeed

No matter what you do, your focus should always be towards making your clients successful. People don’t usually think about it this way. They focus more on the profit they’re going to make. The latter can earn you a buck, but it won’t make you a long lasting player in the niche.

By focusing on making your clients successful, you’ll ensure that your product is of high quality. Instead of thinking about “What can I sell you?” start thinking more about: “How can I truly help you?”

Do Less Stuff

In essence, minimalism is all about simplicity. In paintings: using the smallest range of materials and colors possible, and only very simple shapes or forms. In fashion: paring down your closet to its basics, creating a capsule wardrobe full of essentials.

In business, is doing fewer stuff in general: focusing on one product, one business model, one niche, one type of audience, one type of content, having one goal.

I’ve mentioned in a couple of times but it’s important to state it again: the fewer stuff you do, the better you’ll become at doing these stuff. It’s important because a lot of people start with an intention to do everything, they want to be everywhere, on all social media accounts. To have hundreds of products and to please everyone. However, this won’t do you any good.

By focusing on doing less, you’ll have more time, more focus, and you’ll have to take fewer decisions. This will all result in a strong brand and you, as an owner, will have more time to enjoy what you’re doing.

Enjoy What You’re Doing

You’re not doing it right if you’re not enjoying the work around your online business. Yes, a lot of times you’ll be tired because you’re working more than usual – when you need to launch a new product or something else – but if you’re genuinely dissatisfied with what you’re doing then you have to stop. Take a break. You don’t need to quit. You can just take a moment to think. To remember why you started and see what changed. This will help you make healthy adjustments, thus restore the passion in what you’re doing.

Some Closing Thoughts

While serial entrepreneurs lecture people stuff like: “hustle till you make it” or “fake it till you make it.” True craftsmen hone their skills and build relationships with their future clients.

Starting an online business, by yourself, is all about being better, not bigger. Building long-term relationships with your audience and with your customers; Keeping your expenses and your portfolio slim; Being true to your mission and your values.

You can’t outgrow big corporations, nor you have their resources, but the good news is that you don’t need them. What differentiate you from others, the bigger players, is your personality. Your authenticity. Your ability to move quickly by making decisions faster. The ability to connect with others on a more personal level. After that, it’s all about enduring long enough to get noticed.

As James Clear mentioned in his book Atomic Habits: “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”


Footnotes:

  1. If you haven’t heard, Jeff Bezos is divorcing his wife. Even though his fortune will be split between him and his ex-wife, that’s again a lot of money.
  2. You can see the minimalist FAQs by Leo Babauta, here.
  3. Exactly what’s currently happening with Jeff Bezos. Even though he is the wealthiest man in the world, his relationship with his wife is suffering.
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