My Only Advice Before You Start a Services Business

I’m approaching the fourth anniversary since I started Sangora, a consultancy that helps media companies design and implement their advertising technology.  

Over the past few years, I’ve been asked a range of questions about how to start a services business:

“How did you build your website?”

“What kind of business insurance do I need?”

“Which state is the best to form an LLC?”

Looking back on these questions, I realized that they’re actually incorrectly focused. Why? Because they zero in on the administration and optimization of a business that doesn’t yet exist.

Sure, such questions feel important when pondering a jump into entrepreneurship, and yes: Many of them will have to be answered eventually.

But when you’re on the precipice of starting a services business, I only have one piece of advice:

Find one person to buy what you’re selling.

Don’t worry about your future website. Just find one paying customer.

Don’t spend time investigating the best state in which to form your company. Just find one paying customer.

Heck, don’t even quit your day job. Just find one paying customer.

Why is this my only advice? Because you simply don’t have a business to manage or optimize until you’ve found that one customer. Focus all your efforts on this sole task — everything else can wait on the back burner.

Moreover, as you spend your energy on finding that paying customer, you’ll naturally unlock answers to other important questions:  

  • What kinds of objections am I encountering?
  • Am I targeting the right type of customers?
  • Is this a service that people need or want?

So if you’re thinking about starting a services business, don’t worry yet about the intricacies of running it. You’ll figure out those details after you achieve your single focus:

Just find one customer.

What’s your one piece of advice in an area you know well?

How to Read More Books

“I read books.”

-Elon Musk, when asked how he learned to build rockets

“Reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.”

-Bill Gates

“Everybody can read what I read, it is a level playing field.”

-Warren Buffett

“Everything I read was public…The same information was available to anyone who wanted it. Turns out most people didn’t want it. Most people won’t put in the time to get a knowledge advantage.”

-Mark Cuban

“You should read more books. They’ll make you smarter!”

-your Aunt Janice

But you probably don’t need four billionaires and your Aunt Janice to convince you that reading books is important.

The real challenge is: How can you actually read more?

This post outlines a few simple tactics to help you do just that. But first, a quick story from my childhood.

In high school, my goal was to graduate without reading a single book cover to cover. Some students dream of making the varsity basketball team or getting into Harvard. Mine was to get through those four years without reading a single book. #goals

I never achieved that goal.

I read one book in high school. And it wasn’t because I stumbled upon a book in a hidden corner of the library that unlocked some previously unrealized love for reading. No, it was because my 10th grade English teacher finally assigned us a book that wasn’t available on SparkNotes. (SparkNotes was the early 2000’s version of CliffsNotes, and CliffsNotes was the 70’s version of cheating.)

Fast forward to 2012, when I finally realized that reading was not only important, but also a key differentiator in high performers. That’s when I started tracking the number of books I read each year.

Here’s what it looks like…

Things have certainly changed since my high school days. In 2016, I read more than double the amount of books from the year prior.

Here’s my advice for how you can do the same.

Change your perspective

In 2013, I read six books. The life expectancy for a male in the United States is 76 years old. I realized that if I continued reading only six books per year, I would only read 300 books for the rest of my life!

Count how many books you read last year, and multiply that by the number of years left in your life expectancy. Are you satisfied with that total? If not, allow it to motivate you out of a reading rut.

The truth hurts sometimes — but you can use it to your advantage.

(This is also a useful mindset to apply to other goals in your life. Want to travel more? Ask yourself how many countries you’re visiting each year. Want to have a stronger relationship with your family members? Take stock of how often you’re talking to them on the phone.)

Invest in a Kindle

On a slightly less morbid note: Think seriously about getting yourself a Kindle.

Disclaimer: I know some people can’t imagine reading anything other than the tactile pages of an actual paper book. If that’s you, no worries — keep rocking those traditional books.

But if you’re open to it, a Kindle is guaranteed to help you power through more books. Here are a few reasons why:

  • The Kindle Paperwhite is .32 inches thick and weighs only 6.4 ounces, but it can store 6,000 books. The average single paperback is one inch thick and weighs slightly under one pound. With a Kindle, you’ll never again have to weigh the pros and cons of packing that heavy hardcover in your carry-on. Simply slide it in your bag (or your back pocket), and boom — you’ve got countless titles at your fingertips.
  • You can pick up where you left off on your phone. Instead of scrolling through Instagram in the grocery store line, finish up a chapter on the Kindle app.
  • The Kindle has a built-in light that turns all external lighting into reading lighting. (Sayonara, strained eyes.)
  • You can read the Kindle with one hand. If you’ve ever tried to turn the page of a standard book while standing on a subway or train, you’ll know what a game-changer this is.

Join a library and get the Libby app

With so much free content available online these days, it’s sometimes tough to rationalize spending $9.99 on a book. Luckily, Benjamin Franklin invented this little thing called a library in 1731.

After joining your local branch, download the Libby app to access to your library’s eBooks for free. You can even send those free eBooks directly to your Kindle — all for free. (Did I mention it’s free?)

Here’s how easy it is:

  1. Find your closest library.
  2. Sign up for a free library card, which shouldn’t take more than two minutes. (Just bring a valid form of ID to prove you live in the area.)
  3. Install the Libby app, and log in with your library card number.
  4. Find a free eBook.
  5. Read it directly in the Libby app or send it straight to your Kindle.

Embrace change

Most people tend to either read exclusively non-fiction (“I want to learn something!”) or exclusively fiction (“I want to have fun while reading!”).

Regardless of your preference, it’s important to switch things up. If you’re a fiction aficionado, give a non-fiction book a go every so often — and vice versa.

Though I’m personally a fan of non-fiction books, I get burnt out after about three of them. To get out of this rut, I’ll grab an easy fiction read to rip through (Jack Reacher novels are my go-to).

These small shifts will reset your reading experience, leaving you refreshed and ready to jump back into your preferred genre with a new zeal.

Don’t lose momentum

It can be tempting to bask in the glory of finishing a book, but remember: An object at rest stays at rest. Your brain will easily find any reason not to do something—especially, I find, when it comes to reading. So as soon as you finish a book, buy/download/order your next one immediately. Not after a few hours, not after a few days, but in the same sitting.

This simple behavioral shift can lead to massive results.

You already knew you should read more books. And now you know how to actually do it.

Phones, Mics, and Ads (Oh My!)

“Ummm…I just saw an ad for Legos and we were just talking about them last night. My phone is definitely listening and showing ads based on what I’ve said!”

Sound familiar? It has all the facets of a modern blockbuster thriller: a big, evil technology company listening to our private conversations and using them against us to sell more widgets. Well, maybe not a blockbuster, but it’s at least a mediocre episode of Black Mirror.

This theory has been floating around for a while and has begun to draw the attention of major news outlets like the BBC and Vice.

There’s even been enough mounting pressure to garner statements from the usually tight-lipped Google and Facebook.

Google’s direct-and-to-the-point statement: “We do not use ambient sound from any device to target ads.”

Facebook’s similar statement: “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed.”

These assurances from the tech giants who own more than 57% of the digital advertising market share aren’t overly comforting. It feels a bit like the Wizard of Oz telling us to ”pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

And from a technology standpoint, a big technology company has the capabilities and resources to put this in action.

But, alas, this is not happening. Big tech companies are not using our conversations to show us targeted ads.

“I don’t believe you. I was talking about Legos, and now I’m seeing an ad for Legos. If they’re not showing me ads based on my conversations, how did they know I’m interested in Legos?”

Even without your voice, you supply Google, Facebook, and Amazon (61.8% of all digital advertising) with a ton of data. Really, they know a lot about you. And these companies are ceaselessly using that data to figure out what you might like and show you ads for those potential interests.

Let’s look at Facebook (who also owns Instagram) as an example:

  • They know everything you’ve included on your About page (e.g. birthday, prior jobs, gender, places you’ve lived)
  • They know every picture you’ve ever liked or viewed on Instagram and Facebook
  • They know every company or page you’ve liked on Facebook
  • They know how many friends you have, who those friends are, and what your friends like
  • They know every location you’ve ever used Instagram or Facebook
  • They know many the sites you visit outside of Facebook. There are over 4 million websites that have the Facebook pixel installed. Every time you visit one of these sites, Facebook knows (and often more specific details like what items you added to your shopping cart).

With the above data readily at hand, and with a small army of data scientists, Facebook (and equally Google and Amazon) are very good at anticipating what you will like.

“OK, it makes sense that they’re probably pretty good at figuring out what I might like….but I was just talking about Legos. It can’t be a coincidence. How is that possible?”

Your mind is playing tricks on you. Well, not a trick but an illusion…

It’s known as the Frequency Illusion, and it’s “a cognitive bias which describes our tendency to see new information, names, ideas or patterns ‘everywhere’ soon after they’re first brought to our attention.”

Here’s my “explain it to my little cousin” version of the Frequency Illusion:

  • Our brains process a lot of stuff, all the time (e.g. online ads)
  • Since there’s so much being processed, our brains are selective in what stands out and is remembered (e.g. an ad for something we just talked about)
  • We’re much more likely to notice or remember something that stands out  (e.g. ‘holy moly, we were just talking about Legos’)

It’s like when you buy a new pair of shoes. Before you bought the shoes, you never really noticed anyone else wearing them. But once you slip on those new kicks, it seems like everyone is rocking a pair.

Recent data shows that the average American spends over 23 hours a week online. That number includes your grandma who checks her email once a month so I’m guessing you might be a bit higher than average. That’s a lot of scrolling through webpages and apps. And a lot of ignored ads.

Well, a lot of ignored ads until we see something we were just talking about.

And then….

“Ummm…I just saw an ad for Legos and we were just talking about them last night. My phone is definitely listening and showing ads based on what I’ve said!”

If you’re still not convinced, that’s OK. It’s just your mind playing a different trick on you.