If you have a bunch of ideas for side hustles or businesses that you dream of starting, I’m hoping that by the end of this article I can convince you not to start them.
Of course, there are all the typical reasons why you shouldn’t start a business:
1 / At least 50% of businesses fail in the first five years
2 / If your business fails, it’s very personal and very public
3 / It’s a ton of work and can take several to ten years to find any kind of success
But there is an even better reason why you shouldn’t start a business. It’s a huge waste of time (and money).
Now, before you get all up in arms (if you haven’t already) and call me a hypocrite, allow me to explain exactly what I mean.
Over the weekend I spoke about practicing mindful habits at Still Kickin’ IRL, a wonderful retreat put on by Nora McInerny and team in six-foot-high-snow-piles Finland, Minnesota. It was at a nature lodge with a taxidermied wolf, and it didn’t stop snowing the whole time we were there.
Check out this picture I took about 100 yards off the shore of Lake Superior on my way home. The waves on the lake caused the ice to fracture on its way into shore and the pieces piled up making it look like a strange, alien world. Pretty cool, huh?
Anyway, this week, I ended up grabbing coffee with a quite lovely person I met at the conference and he asked me this question:
My girlfriend and I have a ton of great ideas for businesses to start, but we’re struggling to figure out what kind of business structure it should have. What’s better? An LLC, a non-profit, or what? We want to help people, but we’re getting stuck figuring all this out.
When I answered this question, I realized that I had never shared this advice with anyone before (which is why you’re reading it here, now).
Here was my answer: It absolutely does not matter what type of business you start. In fact you should not start an actual business at all—nonprofit or otherwise. Here’s what you should do instead.
Just start doing the thing that you want the business to do.
Go out into the world, test and validate the ideas you have before ever creating a logo, opening a bank account, registering an LLC, or anything else.
Sure, there will likely be some amount of financial investment to bring something big together—but not on any of the above.
So yes, I did lie a little bit. I really do think you should start a business, try a side hustle, or pursue a creative endeavor. But I also think you should wait as long as possible to turn it into something official.
I hope you can learn from my pain.
I have spent, probably, hundreds of hours of my life in my twenties registering business structures, creating logos, designing websites, buying domain names, and opening business bank accounts—only to never run a single dollar through those bank accounts. Except for the monthly fees they charged me, of course.
All of these steps, especially when taken very early on, are what I call a false first step. A false first step feels like you’re making progress on building something, but you’re really just spending money and burning time.
If you want to start a business, go out and do the thing. Likely it will shift and change as you test, experiment and learn new things. Figure out the business structure later.
Open a bank account in the name of the business when you have a check from a client that you can’t cash otherwise.
Still Kickin’, the (now) nonprofit that hosted the event where I spoke last weekend is perfect example of this.
Nora went through the horrible, difficult, terrible experience of losing her husband to a brain tumor. Out of that experience, she wanted to help other people going through difficult times in their lives. So, she took the Still Kickin’ t-shirt design that her husband Aaron recreated and put it up for sale on a site that only required 12 sales total to have the shirt put into production.
Well, over 400 of the t-shirts sold in the first round and they gave the proceeds directly to what they now call their monthly Hero, someone going through something difficult and in need of a little help.
There was no business structure, no LLC, or nonprofit—just an idea, executed. Once it started to take off, a formalized structure had to be created for it to make sense. It turns out, when you give away profits (whether personal or business), you still have to pay taxes on those profits.
I can even use myself as an example.
My wife Amy and I have been running our video production company and this blog, podcast, and YouTube channel full-time for over 16 months now. I started this blog itself more than five years ago. But we just registered an LLC, business bank account, and credit card for it just two months ago. I didn’t have my current branding/logo for at least the first year of writing.
The reality is that the business setup is simply a distraction from doing the thing you dream of doing. And I want you to do that thing.
All of this is simply to say:
Yes. Start the thing, try the idea, gather the people, create the movement.
But don’t bother starting a business, worrying about the business structure, or measuring how profitable it will be in the meantime. Create an event, sell tickets, make a t-shirt, raise awareness for something you believe in, and when people start asking when the next one is—run with it.
It might not work right away, but that’s okay. You’ll learn from it, pivot, or move on to something else that may work better. In the meantime, at least you didn’t waste a bunch of time and money creating a business, logo, website, or opening a bank account. By skipping the fluff, you have more time and resources to try and try again, or try something else entirely. And that’s something you won’t regret.