Starting a Business: Focus on Profits, Not Popularity

Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 2:14 PM EDT

Last week I gave a presentation to a group of a few thousand people on how to create a richer life -- one that is filled with more time, money, and meaning. Afterward, several people approached me to discuss their ideas for starting a business. What I heard was both exciting and disturbing.

The best business ideas were those that were unique, thoroughly researched, and were focused on making money. While it may sound obvious for a business to focus on making money, I heard more than a few business ideas that seemed to neglect this critical aspect. Instead of dollars, their focus was users and views with no strategy for converting popularity into profit. While companies such as Facebook and Twitter have created billion dollar enterprises without any focus on profits, they are not good role models for you and me.

If you want to start a business in your free time, you must convert your product or service into money. The biggest mistakes I see are the result of well-intentioned people spending a lot of time and money creating things they aren't able to monetize or market. Watch a few of the videos on YouTube. Many of them are fairly sophisticated productions with clean editing, a good soundtrack, and decent lighting. This takes time and energy to pull off and many videos are part of a series that require an ongoing commitment. Others will spend hours upon hours writing reviews of books, movies, products, and services, and they'll research and answer questions for nothing more than a little recognition.

It's not uncommon to see online videos that have been viewed 100,000 or even a million plus times or blogs with hundreds of thousands of loyal and active readers. But fame alone doesn't buy a new car. Views, members, readers, follower, or friends won't pay for a new house. Too many people think the recognition is the objective, but it is only a tool -- just one piece of the puzzle. Recognition may have become the new currency, but it can't pay the bills.

Before you turn on the video camera or dust off the keyboard, think about how you can monetize or market your contribution. Writing a blog that gets read by a hundred thousand people is cool, but how can you capitalize on this? Point them to a website with products? What about using the content to get a job or attract the attention of those who can boost your career?

Craig Benzine created online videos to land himself a better job in a new field. Singer Christina Perri created short videos that attracted the attention of Los Angeles managers and that eventually led to her breakout success. Other artists have also had success creating content for a purpose.

For example, Esmee Denters failed an audition for the Dutch Pop Idol, but instead of sinking into a hole, she decided to promote herself. She created a video of herself singing a Justin Timberlake song and it became a YouTube hit. It became so popular Justin watched it himself. He was so impressed he met with her and signed her to his record label. What's the lesson? Was she just lucky?

Absolutely not! Luck is buying a winning lottery ticket. What Craig, Christina, Esmee and others like them did was not luck. They decided they'd take their future into their own hands. They created content and promoted it -- not because they were bored and had nothing better to do, but because they wanted to advance their career. They created content for a purpose.

If you are starting a business, make sure you have a clear path to profitability or a marketing strategy to boost your career.

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    Robert Pagliarini is obsessed with inspiring others to create and empowering them to live life to the fullest by radically changing the way they invest their time and energy. He is the founder of Richer Life, a community of passionate people who want to learn and achieve more in life and at work. He is a Certified Financial Planner and the president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, a boutique wealth management firm serving sudden wealth recipients and affluent individuals. He has appeared as a financial expert on 20/20, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Dr. Drew's Lifechangers and many others.