10 Lessons New Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Steve Chou’s Multiple Six-Figure Successes
Steve Chou is the founder of MyWifeQuitHerJob.com (and several other incredibly successful businesses), and he’s known for generating an impressive $100,000+ in revenue in his first year. But what’s even more amazing about Steve is that he built these six-figure companies while maintaining a full-time job.
Steve is truly an inspiration for entrepreneurs with his many insights and techniques that he refined during a process of trial and error. I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve on Growth Everywhere where he offered some actionable advice that everyone can benefit from. Here’s a quick overview of what inspired him to create his own online business, as well as some great tips you can take away from his wise words.
Steve Chou and His Journey to Success
Steve Chou may not be a household name yet, but he’s proven himself to be a successful entrepreneur nonetheless. He didn’t initially set out to become an entrepreneur, however. Rather, he and his wife realized that they were unhappy with the direction their life was headed and knew that they needed to make a big change.
In a post on his site, Steve shares his story of launching his entrepreneurial career with his wife Jennifer in 2007. They both dreaded waking up every day to go to work and reached a turning point when Jennifer discovered she was pregnant with their first child. She wanted to stay home and spend more time with their baby, but knew they couldn’t afford to keep their home in Silicon Valley with only one income.
Their dilemma inspired Steve and Jennifer to launch their own business. They started by researching different ways to make a living online and came up with an idea to start an e-commerce store that specialized in wedding handkerchiefs.
Steve and Jennifer were pleasantly surprised by how quickly their online business became successful; in fact, they were generating six figures by the end of their first year with a continued projection for growth. Next, they diversified their income by creating additional businesses that also grew into six-figure enterprises, all while Steve was working at his day job as an engineer.
Steve currently runs a six-day course that helps aspiring e-commerce merchants set their goals and develop a roadmap to reach them. He also writes extensive, quality content for MyWifeQuitHerJob.com.
Steve generously shared some insights to his success in a recent Growth Everywhere interview on how he and Jennifer became prolific entrepreneurs. It wasn’t an easy or simple process, but they learned how to accomplish a lot in a 24-hour period by developing their own productivity hacks and testing different strategies for maximum ROI.
Key Takeaway: Steve Chou proves that highly-focused entrepreneurs can successfully juggle several businesses and a full-time career.
Wisdom from a Prolific Serial Entrepreneur
There are an endless number of unique factors that come into play as an entrepreneur, and Steve has encountered pretty much all of them. Here are the ten best pieces of advice he shared with the Growth Everywhere audience:
1. Diversify with a Variety of E-commerce Platforms
There are a number of third party e-commerce platforms that online business owners can take advantage of, with Amazon and eBay being two of the most popular options. Steve acknowledges that these can be great venues for new sellers to start growing their business, but warns that business owners shouldn’t limit themselves to these sites.
He initially encouraged new entrepreneurs to invest in creating their own e-commerce platform, despite it requiring more leg work and a longer wait to see results, but his views have changed somewhat after starting his own Amazon store.
“Overall, I think that having an established online store prior to selling on Amazon has been a huge advantage for us,” he wrote on his site. “But if I were to start all over again, I would use Amazon as a way to test and validate my products before going full force with my own website.”
Here’s an overview of the process that Steve recommends following:
- Try selling products on Amazon to test demand
- Start building your own website to scale
- Continue running your Amazon business while growing your own website
Steve explained that one of Amazon’s biggest benefits is the ability to generate money right away. However, you eventually reach a point where you can no longer scale your Amazon operation because of the amount of competition and lack of branding opportunities. Having your own website in place will give you the means to maintain and expand your focus on growth.
Lauren Teschendorf, one of the students in Steve’s “Create a Profitable Online Store” course, followed this exact template and was able to grow a six-figure business just by following his advice.
Key Takeaway: If you’re launching an online store, consider trying a few different platforms to sell your products. You may be able to reach customers through a major provider like Amazon while you’re establishing your own site.
2. Don’t Compete Against Big Brands on Their Terms
Regardless of the type of business you run, you’re going to face challenges from big-name competitors. Too many entrepreneurs waste time and resources trying to compete against them instead of focusing on building their own brand and showcasing what is unique about themselves.
Steve has successfully competed against Amazon as an e-commerce market, albeit on a much smaller scale. Here are several reasons why he says it’s fruitless to copy their business model:
- Amazon enjoys an established global reputation
- Amazon reaches a very different customer base
- Amazon is highly diversified and doesn’t need to optimize its site for every product it sells
- Amazon employs a very generic interface
Key Takeaway: Whether you’re an e-commerce company competing against Amazon or a mom-and-pop pizzeria facing off against Papa John’s, don’t play by your larger competitors’ rules. Find a way to differentiate yourself rather than trying to beat them at their own game.
3. Learn from Other Leaders and Customize Their Advice to Your Business
During his interview, Steve told me that he regrets not taking more time to learn from established experts. If he could tell himself something at 25, it would be to read more books and learn from interesting people.
Expanding on this idea, Steve delved into the importance of soliciting advice from experts in a blog post about losing weight. He argued that getting advice was important; however, he found that none of the exact formulas that experts provided worked for him personally. Rather than abandoning their advice, he sought ways to tailor their advice to his own needs.
Key Takeaway: There’s so much great information out there that can cut your learning curve significantly. Instead of reinventing the wheel, see what the experts are saying, and then find ways to apply their wisdom to your own journey.
4. You’ll Have to Bite the Bullet Every Now and Then
Being an entrepreneur can be a thrilling challenge, but there will inevitably be road bumps along the way. One of your biggest struggles will be spending hours on tasks that you don’t really enjoy. Unfortunately, some of those tasks may take up a substantial amount of your time.
In our interview, Steve told me that one of his biggest challenges is that he doesn’t particularly like writing—which is a major problem if you’re a blogger! Nonetheless, he still forces himself to get up every day and write the content that his readers are waiting to devour.
The pressure of needing to find a way to make ends meet after having their first child is another example of biting the bullet. It forced Steve and his wife to take action, and while it certainly required a lot of hard work, the end result was an exciting journey they may have never pursued otherwise.
Key Takeaway: Running a business isn’t always glamorous. There are perks, but there’s also plenty of dirty work. If you haven’t started your own company yet, go into the process with clear and realistic expectations. If you have, don’t let yourself be discouraged by days when it feels like you’re working harder than everybody else. We all have to bite the bullet every now and then.
5. Minimize Time Spent on Monotonous Tasks
Entrepreneurs need to combat outside distractions that make it difficult to run a business, especially if they’re working from home. However, many entrepreneurs aren’t even aware of the constant time drains that creep in while working. Steve told me that he’s taken a number of different approaches to manage his time more effectively and stay productive.
One of the ways Steve reduces idle time is by limiting his time spent checking emails. More specifically, he only answers messages twice a day. While this may create frustrations for some people who expect prompt responses, most people respect the way he’s structured his workload and processes to stay productive.
Steve also discussed his utilization of ultradian rhythms. This is a similar concept to circadian rhythms (relating to sleep), but instead focuses on productivity. He said that every entrepreneur must find the periods during the day when they’re most productive and use them to their fullest advantage. He found himself significantly more motivated and productive after embracing this strategy.
In order to use his time more effectively, Steve looked at the traditional job structure that typical “nine-to-fivers” follow. He noticed that most people will work for three hours, eat lunch and then work for four hours. This broken-up day makes it difficult for people to maintain the momentum needed to accomplish their tasks. As a result, they make little progress when alternating between different tasks throughout the day while constantly juggling meetings and other interruptions.
Steve significantly boosted his productivity by identifying tasks that need to be accomplished and dedicating entire parts of the week to them, instead of changing tasks throughout the day. In order to get more done, he’ll typically work on two tasks during the week and allocate a couple of days to focus on each of them.
Key Takeaway: Steve is more productive when he follows his natural energy rhythms and blocks of periods for set tasks, but that doesn’t mean that’s the right approach for you. Experiment with your time to find the schedule that maximizes your ability to get things done. Are you typically a morning person? Try scheduling your highest priority tasks for the AM hours. Are you most productive after you work out? Allocate time each day to take care of yourself physically with plenty of time afterwards to tackle a task.
6. Split Test to Boost Conversions
Testing different strategies is one of the most important parts of being an entrepreneur and you may be surprised to see the difference that even the smallest changes can make. Steve has done extensive split testing on his site and gives the process credit for the high opt-in rate for his courses.
Here are just a few of the discoveries he’s made while testing:
- Steve discovered that 50% of his users weren’t subscribing when he used a double opt-in. He replaced it with a single opt-in and was able to keep those visitors, ultimately finding that they were just as engaged as those that signed up with a double opt-in.
- He incorporated subscriber names and other personal information into his email copy, which helped his subscribers feel a stronger connection.
- He changed elements of his sign-up form to blend in with his content. This may seem counterintuitive, but it clearly worked. His conversion rate increased from 0.6% to 1.2%.
- He tested different distribution channels to sell his products. As mentioned above, Steve initially was skeptical of Amazon, but soon realized that it was a great platform to score additional sales.
Key Takeaway: Steve sees split testing as one of the most important aspects of running his businesses. Maximize your own ROI by emulating his process and continuing to test your results. If you aren’t sure how to get started with this process, take a look at Google’s Content Experiments tool—one of the easiest ways to split test. Our list of different website elements to split test will also help you figure out what you should be testing and where to get started.
7. Automate Your Sales Funnel Whenever Possible
Since your time is so important, consider looking into any technology that can help you operate your business more efficiently. Because managing sales is a significant part of Steve’s business, he uses a variety of tools to automate his sales funnels, reduce his workload, and increase his productivity.
There are a number of tools that you can leverage to grow your online business. Steve recommends Aweber as an invaluable autoresponder service to help scale up your business. In fact, he attributes 90% of his earnings to using this software.
To automate your business, explore other online tools, too. Just be sure that they are of benefit to your particular business and your specific needs; it’s a waste of time to implement apps or software just because they happen to be hot right now. For example, you might want to use social media management software to schedule your content in bulk, see what people are saying about your business, and engage with your followers.
Key Takeaway: Online merchants should make sure they’re using a reliable e-commerce platform to reduce time involvement on their end while providing customers with the best user experience and support that they need. Automating the ordering process significantly reduces the amount of time spent manually processing customer inquiries.
8. Stop Wasting Time on Empty Activities
Many business owners struggle to balance all their obligations in life, causing far too many of them give up on their dreams because they can’t find enough time to do everything.
Steve and his wife Jennifer faced many of the same problems as they grew their business. He knew that they needed to take a look at how they were spending their time and then find ways to reduce the time spent on activities that didn’t bring them closer to their goals. As an example, they realized that a lot of time watching television could be used more productively. This ultimately inspired them to find other places where they could free up time to dedicate to their business.
Key Takeaway: Be honest with yourself and take an inventory of your habits. There are probably dozens of time-wasting activities that keep you from being more productive. Maybe you’re browsing Facebook or Reddit in the middle of the day when you should be focusing on your business instead.
Alternatively, you might have plenty of time at your disposal, but just wind up filling it to be “busy,” rather than focusing on tasks that actually matter. Hold yourself accountable to how you spend your time and cut out any distractions during your day in order to actually run and grow your business.
9. Focus on Audience Engagement
Engaging with your audience is crucial when it comes to converting them into future buyers. Steve points out that this consideration is particularly important in the e-commerce industry, as it’s harder to build trust with people online instead of through face-to-face interactions.
Steve admits that he initially faced difficulties engaging with some of his followers. In one of the posts that he wrote in 2013, he recapped how his blog had evolved over time. He shared that his older posts had very few comments and social shares, but found a number of ways to build stronger connections with his readers. This higher engagement ultimately led to higher conversions for his site.
There are several specific measures that Steve took to improve his relationship with his readers. One of the most important was ensuring that people only joined his list if they were interested in what he had to say.
“Let’s start with the basics: an email list is only useful if those people on the list are interested in what you have to say,” Steve said. “Engagement is the real marker of success, not the amount of subscribers you have.”
Steve was very careful to define his audience and communicate who would be most likely to benefit from his list. Since he created a very focused list and took the time to engage with subscribers who were interested in what he had to say, Steve has maintained a 50% open rate—two and a half times the average of all email marketers.
Key Takeaway: Carefully define your customers before trying to market directly to them. Do you really know what they’re interested in or what they want to hear from you? If not, how can you get that information? There are plenty of different consumer research tools out there—from online surveys to chat tools—so there’s simply no reason to operate in the dark. To succeed, you absolutely must understand your buyer personas.
10. Diversify by Leveraging Existing Success
At first, Steve and Jennifer created a very successful online wedding linen business. But instead of sitting back and being content with what they built, they decided to leverage what they learned to create two more six-figure businesses. Many of Steve’s readers at MyWifeQuitHerJob.com told him that they were interested in learning more, so he created a six-day course to teach people how to replicate their success.
Key Takeaway: Entrepreneurs should never be complacent with their success. No matter how much revenue and recognition you’ve generated already, there are always ways you can scale it further. Continuously brainstorm new ideas and methods that can build off your existing success.
Check Out Steve’s Site
In just a few years, Steve and Jennifer Chou have gone from “nine-to-five” workers who dreamed of something more to extremely successful entrepreneurs who run multiple six-figure businesses. Whether you’re trying to quit your job or not, I’d encourage you to follow his blog to learn as much as possible about e-commerce and entrepreneurship. You can also check out our full conversation in the video below:
Are there any other useful details and anecdotes you picked up from Steve’s interview or blog? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below: