Whip Up a Service-Based Business in a Weekend (in 4 steps!)

Looking for service based business ideas? Start here! You don't need fancy branding or an expensive website. This basic, incredibly helpful small business advice is great from bloggers and entrepreneurs! #startabusiness #biztips #servicebasedbusiness #howtostartabusiness #girlboss

What’s a service-based business? And how do you come up with ideas for one?

Well, I’m so glad you asked! A service-based business is a business where you work directly with clients (usually one-on-one) exchanging your talent/expertise/time for their $$$. If you’re a coach, a consultant, a designer or a photographer, you have a service-based business!

No matter your skill set, it’s hiiiiighly likely you could use those skills to create a service-based business. Today my friend Courtney (of The Rule Breaker’s Club fame) is helping you figure out how what type of business you could launch. Pop over and learn more about package up and sell your talents in a signature service!

Crap. It was just three months before moving to Paris and I still didn’t have a summer job to save enough money.

I know, I know. Total #firstworldproblem, right?

But you have to understand.

I’d tried all of the usual summer job hunt strategies: Craigslist, restaurants, retail. No one would hire me. Not even a call back or an interview. You’ve gotta admit, that’s a pretty big reality check for a 21-year-old college graduate to not be able to get a bite from Target. Target!

I laid awake at night whispering expletives to myself in frustration. The real world SUCKS. As I’m sure you know, Paris is expensive. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay rent or eat let alone jaunt around Europe if I couldn’t find a way to save some cash.

Oh, and I should also mention: this was the summer of 2009– smack dab in the middle of the Great Recession.

The plot thickens…

But wait! Before you start feeling too sad for my quintessentially millennial problem. I want you to know that this job hunt struggle wound up being the best possible thing that could have happened to me (you saw that coming, didn’t you?)

Here’s why:

It’s amazing how resourceful you can get when your lifelong dream of living in Paris is on the line.

One day during one of my daily Craigslist scans, I had an idea. Instead of looking for someone to give me a pre-packaged opportunity, why didn’t I create my own?

I just earned a college degree. Surely I have SOME kind of skill that I can offer in exchange for money…right? Right?!

I decided to package myself up as a service provider and pitch my talents to the Craigslist community. And it worked!

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I instinctively followed a few important steps towards launching a profitable business.

Here’s how I did it (and how you can do it too):

#1 Take stock of what you’re already good at

During this time of crisis in the summer of 2009 I was fresh outta college and had just earned a French degree.

Yes, a French degree.

Before you roll your yes, I’m well aware that French is not the most marketable skill in the world. Especially in rural Michigan. However, having the degree in my hand was enough to give me the confidence to declare myself qualified to be a French tutor and I happened to be just idealistic enough to go for it.

I whipped together a Craigslist post to offer “French Tutor – $15/hr”. (That sounded like a lot of money to me at the time, but we can chat about “charging what you’re worth” another time).

And this, my friend, is how I started down the path of entrepreneurship that I’m still on 8 years later.

The lesson for you:

  • Want to start a business? You don’t need fancy branding or a website. You don’t have to start a business that encompasses every passion, hobby, topic you want to talk about. That’s not even strategic (yet it’s what a lot of women business owners try to do).
  • You do need to be somewhat confident to state what you do super well, what you do kinda sorta well, and what you’re simply not good at.

#2 – Don’t assume anything about what people can “afford”

As it turns out, there is a remarkable number of people interested in learning French in Michigan the middle of the summer.

I know, I was shocked, too!

And they’re willing to pay more than you’d probably think.

Though my $15/hour tutoring scheme  wasn’t enough money to afford living in Paris in and of itself (I wound up finding a full time gig to supplement my travel plans) the experience taught me an important lesson: It’s not as hard to make money as we’re led to believe.

I spent two years working as a French tutor and raised my prices every several months as I gained more confidence. In the beginning, I never thought anyone would pay as much $45 per hour for a French tutor (and some people aren’t), but you’d be surprised how many are.

The lesson for you:

  • You are good at things that other people find excruciatingly difficult. I promise. Don’t take your talents for granted!
  • You honestly don’t need a degree in order to find people to pay you to do something. You simply need to offer it and give them an opportunity to say yes.
  • Don’t assume that people can’t afford something or don’t value something because of your own lack of confidence. Value and affordability are both subjective concepts.

#3 – You can’t help everyone. Choose your people.

After two years of living in France I was feeling far more confident in my French speaking abilities as well as my entrepreneurship skills… so I decided to take things up a notch.

I’d learned, through experience, that the best tutoring clients were high school students because– in contrast with college students — their parents held the purse strings. (I learned this lesson the hard way by working with a few college students who were flakey and cheap… for obvious reasons).

By zeroing in on high school students I was able to get specific about my “marketing” strategy. I met with the French teacher at my local high school to tell her about my tutoring business and she sent several students my way.

The lesson for you:

  • Be super specific about who you work with and who you DON’T work with.
  • If you try to help everyone you wind up helping no one because your marketing will be too vague.

#4 – Solve a specific problem that has a tangible result

When I whipped up my French tutoring service, I unknowingly got one thing right: I was specific about what I did. I wasn’t trying to teach them how to become fluent French speakers (all they cared about was getting an A on their next exam) or mesh French tutoring with something random like ice skating (another random skill of mine).

I know that sounds crazy (French on ice?) but I see so many entrepreneurs who try to encompass every one of their passions, hobbies, interests into a business. As you can imagine, this winds up being a mess. Your business doesn’t have to be an expression of your entire identity! It can’t be.

The lesson for you:

  • Be specific and clear about what you do. A great way to ensure you’re doing this is to ask yourself “Is it easy for other people to refer me?” If not, your work is probably too abstract and nebulous.
  • Focus on helping your clients achieve a specific result. In my case it was helping high school students get a better grade in French class.

The BIG, shout-it-from-a-mountaintop takeaway that I want to give you from this article is this:
You don’t need to be fancy to start a business. You just have to do something. Click To Tweet

Yes, logos and branding and professional headshots and a fabulous website are wonderful things that can ultimately help your business. Who doesn’t love playing with fonts and hex codes?

But you don’t need any of these things to get started.

On my business journey I’ve gone from French tutor to Résumé Writer to Copywriter to Sales Page Expert and beyond. Whatever you choose to do to make money right now doesn’t have to be how you make money for the next 10 years.

All you have to do is get started.

Thank you so much for this incredibly helpful, useful advice, Courtney! For those of you who work in service-based businesses, do you have any questions for her?

P.S. Want 1:1 help getting more clients or launching your first online course? I do that!

photo by Roman Bozhko // cc

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  1. Melissa Camilleri Anicich

    I love the hustle! Once you figure out your skill set, it snowballs from there. You gain the confidence knowing that no matter what bumps in the road may come, you can figure out how to make extra cash. Resourcefulness is key!

  2. Katie Erdman

    This was so perfectly timed! I’ve been dancing around getting my own service-based-business off the ground while working full time at another job. This was the extra push I needed!


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