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I think the worst advice to give anyone in regards to owning their own business is “Just find a need, then fill it.”

Dog Poop

Hey, it’s always a need. Fill it!

I think the nation’s landfills are brimming with promotional materials for forgotten carpet cleaning franchises, car detailing businesses, part-time childcare facilities, aerobic workout businesses, and bookkeeping services. All of them failed due to that approach.

A former wife once had an urge to break out of the corporate world (where she did and still does excel) and start her own business. She cited the usual reasons: Wanted her own life back, doesn’t want to work for the “man”, wants unlimited income, etc. Back then in my early 30’s I was still sane enough to realize that her unspoken premise was that I would be financing her entrance into the world of owning her own business. As a result, I was pretty incisive.

“So, you want to own this Curves franchise, eh?”
“Yes! It is going to be SO great! And it’s only (x dollars to start, x dollars per month).”
“Do you like working out?”
“Well. . . no. . . . ”
“Do you like being around people who like to workout, enough so that you could encourage them constantly and drive them to better results?”
“Well. . . no. . . . ”
“Then I don’t think a Curves franchise is for you.”

She didn’t talk to me for a week after that. I still counted it as a win. Accepting that week of silence probably saved a few hundred thousand dollars in the long run, and we would have gotten divorced anyway.

But of course, I was no better than she, really. She returned the favor when I came up with a goofy-ass idea to sell coffee beans with the voice talents of a computer tech I knew who had no interest in selling coffee. She shot that down mercilessly. And for good reason: It was dumb.

A dumb, dumb, dumb idea.

There is no shortage of dumb ideas among would-be entrepreneurs, and no shortage of people to exploit those who believe in dumb ideas. And yes, there is such at thing as a bad, dumb idea, O Starry-Eyed One. The worst dumb idea is that you can overwhelm your natural desires, talents, and inclinations in response to an “opportunity”. Just find an need and fill it, even if the need is the equivalent of pushing rocks up a hill to see them tumble back down. Hey! There’s money in falling rocks.

Find a need and fill it: That’s the shortest recipe for failure.

If you’re working a corporate job and have become tired of being used by some faceless entity for purposes that have nothing to do with your personal strengths, the proper response isn’t to take over the place of the faceless corporation and start to use yourself in the same faceless, impersonal way.

In that case you haven’t found the root problem and addressed it. You’ve just become your own slavemaster. And you’re going to fail at it one way or another.

See, starting and running your own business (which I have failed at more times than I can remember off-hand) requires so much in terms of dedication, time, risk, and investment, that it had better be something you love. Because that’s likely the only way you’re going to make it work.

Richard Branson–everyone’s favorite extrovert–put it this way:


If you get into business solely to make money, you won’t. If you try to make a real difference, you’ll find success

— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) June 17, 2014


So you need to find what it is you love — what counts as doing good in your world — and do that. You’ll find whatever resources you need to keep doing it, regardless of what it is. You’ll find you’re making money to be in business, not the other way around.

Then you can have real success.

When I lived in a part of rural Colorado full of alienated corporate telecommuters possessed by that can-do Yankee spirit, I would keep up with the latest entrepreneurial efforts of the community by watching the local web forum/bulletin board. Every few weeks someone would post the question: “What business would you like to see here in this mountain community?” So many had tried and failed. The shoulders of US285 were littered with carcasses of stores and services selling stuff that people found it cheaper to buy down the hill in Lakewood. And despite whatever they said online, those can-do Yankees never gave a shit about supporting local business. It’s just how it goes. They were all Wal-Mart shoppers at heart.

So after a while (and after seeing my own shared effort at ‘filling a need’ collapse spectacularly) I started responding to these posts in this way:

“Why don’t you start a counseling service for recovering entrepreneurs? That’s definitely a need you can fill.”

At last count, there were no takers.




photo credit: Camlin Photography via photopin cc