If I Started Now: The #1 Advantage Every Business Owner Should Be Searching For

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Beginning today, Passive Panda will be launching a new series called, “If I Started Now.”

The goal of this series is to hand you the exact, step–by–step blueprint of the best way to start a specific business or side project right now.

Each week, we will break down a different niche or idea. For example, “If I started building a freelance photography business, what steps should I take right now?”

Already on this list: creating software/web apps/mobile apps, becoming a freelance photographer, building a blog, starting a charity campaign, and more.

Before we get to specific businesses, let’s break down the number one thing you should look for if you are building any business right now.

The #1 Thing You Want When Building a Business

So what is the #1 advantage every business owner should be searching for?

There is a story from the famous copywriter, Gary Halbert, which reveals it.

Here’s how the story goes…

One day, Halbert was teaching a group of students when he looked at them and asked, “If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who could sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side?”

Students started naming off some ideas…

“I’d like to have the highest quality meat, so that I could create the best burgers.”

“I’d like to have a special sauce, so that my hamburgers were different from everyone else’s.”

“I’d like to have the ability to charge the lowest price, so that my burgers would be the most affordable.”

… and so on.

Halbert looked at the students and said, “Fine, I’ll give you every single advantage you asked for. As for myself, I only want one advantage, and if you give it to me, I’ll crush all of you.”

“What advantage do you want?” the students asked.

“A starving crowd!” replied Halbert.

How Hungry are Your Customers?

Maybe you’re building the next Google. Maybe you’re starting a small, self-funded business. Maybe you just want to set up a lemonade stand down the street.

It doesn’t matter how much funding you have, how much experience you have, or how unique your business model is: the easiest way to succeed is to give a starving crowd what they’re looking to buy.

A starving customer is someone who is desperate for a solution. Think about the project you’re working on or the business you’re running. Are your customers starving? Are they at least hungry? Or are you constantly fighting an uphill battle to get people to see the value in what you do and explaining why they need what you’re selling?

I once heard that you should keep trying business ideas until success comes easily. Another way of saying that is, “Keep searching until you find a starving crowd.”

Good businesses solve desperate needs. Keep searching until you discover an itch that needs to be scratched so bad that they’ll pay you to rub a jagged rock on it.

“Good businesses solve desperate needs. Find an itch that scratches so bad they’ll pay you to rub a jagged rock on it.”
Click here to Tweet this quote

What You Should Do Now

Each week during the “If I Started Now” series, we will break down a different niche or idea.

Here is a list of the topics covered so far:

If you have a particular business or niche that you would like to hear about, then leave a suggestion in the comments below.

Otherwise, make sure you sign up to get free updates of new articles by clicking here.

70 Responses to If I Started Now: The #1 Advantage Every Business Owner Should Be Searching For

  1. I like the idea of this series. And this article is right on. Too many people tend to over think things when it comes to creating a business. A simple way to figure out what you should offer is to take a look around at what people need and then provide it.

    One technique I’ve used in the past is looking through magazine racks or the magazine section of Amazon. Those are proven markets because people are paying for advertising. That means something is selling there.

    Something I’ve started doing lately is checking out local information centers or hotels in different cities. They always have brochures for stuff to do in town while you’re visiting. I’ve come across some great ideas for businesses that way. And just because someone else is doing it isn’t a bad thing. That means they are being successful. Imagine if Wendy’s founder, Dave Thomas had said, “I can’t start a hamburger chain. McDonalds and Burger King are already doing that.” We’d have no Frosties. And that would be tragic. Moreover, he’d have missed a huge opportunity with a hungry crowd.

    Can’t wait to see the rest of the series. Keep up the good work!

  2. Sean Mysel says:

    James nice article! In my niche I’ve found the crowd to be half-starved. Sales are down, customers leave but they never adapt.

    I think part of the deal is to show the state of their malnutrition.



    • James Clear says:


      I think what you’re hinting at here is that you have to prove to the customer that you understand them. There is no greater human need than the need to be understood. Once you’ve demonstrated to the customer that, “Yes, I get what you’re struggling with” it becomes much easier to showcase how your solution solves the problem.

  3. Andrea says:

    What a great concept. The key to making money right away is in how fast you can cut down the learning curve. By doing this series you are helping a lot of people get right to the action steps. Awesome.

  4. Zoran says:

    You really rock man. I mean, reading this, I started to ask myself … how come this has never crossed my mind?

    I would like to see how you would start an affiliate marketing site. Where will you search for a starving crowd in that field?

    I can’t wait till next week, to see with what you will come up with … really. Your freelance course has already helped me so much. I’m really starting to hope that this can help me to make some more money aside of my day job.


    • James Clear says:

      Thanks Zoran! I appreciate you taking the time to read and I’m glad you’re finding the information useful.

      I’ll give affiliate marketing some thought. I have a few friends who are much better at it than I am, so perhaps I’ll interview one or two of them.

  5. Kyle says:

    I’d love to hear some suggestions on marketing web design businesses. I am a Freelance Developer as well as own and run a very small design company. My bread and butter is my B2B web development for other design companies though. I get the traffic, but the conversions are so minimal. I’ll have to read through this site more (because its amazing) and see if I can find some more on lead conversion I guess as well. :P

  6. Katherine says:

    I love writing and self help. I am having limited success at this. I would like to see ideas about finding the starving crowd for those products.

    • James Clear says:


      I’ve got your starving crowd. The first product I would build would be called, “How to Become a Better Writer.”

      There are so many people who want to learn how to write more effectively. Bloggers, would-be authors, students, etc. And that’s not even mentioning all the managers and business people who finally realize how critical writing is to their success.

      I would niche it down, probably to bloggers, and create a product just for them. “How to Become a Better Writer is perfect for bloggers who are looking to create compelling content on the web.”

      Actually, just as I’m writing this I’m starting to talk myself into building a course like this for the Passive Panda audience… :)

  7. Yes says:

    I love this article — it makes a lot of sense. But please fix the spelling, especially if you want us to Tweet the message. Keep up the articles though!

  8. Simon says:

    Hey James,

    awesome article!

    I’d love to see how to set up an niche online business selling stoves and fireplaces!

  9. “Keep searching until you discover an itch that needs to be scratched so bad that they’ll pay you to rub a jagged rock on it.” LOVE that line! It made me laugh, but it’s true. I can’t wait to see the rest of this series.

  10. I am a professional photographer. The problem with my industry is that most people don’t realize they are “hungry” for a family portrait, etc. They snap pics on their point and shoot and that is “good enough”. Most have never seen a professional portrait hanging on someone’s wall because a lot of people don’t do that anymore – they keep everything on their computer. It’s a shame for their kids growing up who won’t have nice portraits of themselves when they were young.

    • James Clear says:

      Needs and desires shift as times moves on. Buying prints was more of a desire before the rise of digital photography, social media, and the related areas because photography wasn’t as accessible to everyone.

      Today, I would argue that there is still plenty of hunger in photography, but it’s in different areas. Rather than pay for a product, people want to pay to learn the craft.

      For example, take a look at some of the top selling courses on Udemy (http://www.udemy.com/courses/popular)…
      “Photoshop Crash Course”
      “Photoshop in 10 Easy Steps”
      “Easy DSLR Photography Course for Beginners”
      “Create a Gorgeous Photography Site with SmugMug”
      “Adobe Photoshop CS6 New Features”
      “Get Your Photos Published!”

      … And that’s just a few that are on the “Popular” page.

      There are plenty of starving crowds in photography, and you probably have the skills to serve them, it’s just about selling them what they want to eat rather than force feeding them.

  11. Pamela Dale says:

    As always James, I love your posts.

    I am still struggling with a bit with a business idea. I am a better interviewer than a writer and also understanding videos are the next thing … so I want to build an interview site were I interview successful entrepreneurs. The need I am fulfilling is inspiration and advice when people feel like quitting.

    My question is on niche… I really like social entrepreneurs… does it sound like there is hunger there?

    Maybe the site could be for people thinking about becoming social entrepreneurs… making money ideas will come, I think, once I am at it for a bit.


    • James Clear says:

      I’m sure there are plenty of people interested in that general topic. The question is how to pitch it.

      The phrase “social entrepreneurship” sounds somewhat boring and corporate. Something bolder like “changing the world” or “making the world a more exciting place” or “making a difference with your life” sounds more compelling.

      Imagine telling people that you interview social entrepreneurs versus telling them…

      “I interview everyday people who have successfully created movements that have changed the world. My hope is that you can learn from their experiences, build your own movement, and make the world a better place.”

      • Pamela Dale says:

        Thanx James….yes I like the wording…I think it needs to be narrowed down a bit more….will keep working on it….I need a business name….

        • Harper says:

          I would be considered a social entrepreneur. However, my vision seems intangible for lack of resources. It feels huge and overwhelming, but I cant imagine NOT doing it. I literally feel like it’s what I was born to do. I dont have a network but I feel compelled to start….just dont know how…How exactly would interviewing with you help someone like me? I’m excited to know!

          James do you have any recommendations?

  12. Scott Worthington says:

    “Keep searching until you discover an itch that needs to be scratched so bad that they’ll pay you to rub a jagged rock on it.”

    This is the quote that I think is tweetable. Is that a word?

    You aren’t the first to express this fundamental idea, nor will you be the last. Amazing that being reminded of something so basic brings accolades.

    Another way that I have seen this idea expressed:
    Find a hungry market.
    Find out exactly what they want.
    Give it to them.

    So simple. So basic. And so rare. Many people that struggle (myself included) try to offer what they want to offer, not necessarily exactly what people want.

    Great article, James. You are an insightful man and I always find value in your writing. Thanks.

  13. Janise says:

    Wow! This kind of series is what I have been hungry for. I cannot wait for it. Thanks thanks! I anticipate that I am going to be learning a lottt!

  14. Kristjan says:

    I missed your regular Passive Panda mailings! This article is valuable reading. Thanks!

  15. Wendy Merron says:

    James, great post! Looking forward to reading more about this one.

    When we created our online program, we were sure we had a hungry audience. Our downloadable program is directed to the hundreds of thousands of people who must speak in public and get nervous and anxious about it.

    After testing our program (very successfully!) we found that our niche isn’t really a niche – it’s a huge swath that covers teens through adults in every walk of life!

    Would love it if you could address our product (or one like it), so we can all learn :-)

    • James Clear says:

      Thanks for reading Wendy.

      This is an interesting question. In my experience, anytime you talk about a very broad problem that many people have (losing weight, finding love, getting over the fear of public speaking, etc.) it’s usually an easier sell if you can focus on a particular market.

      For example, “Our program shows stay-at-home mothers how to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks.”

      It’s simply easier to market when you have a clear target audience and it makes the product seem more relevant to the potential customer.

      Now, of course, you could sell that same weight loss product to busy professionals. “Don’t have time to workout? Our program will show you how to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks without spending hours in the gym.”

      Same product + specific markets = more success.

  16. Wendy Merron says:

    Thanks for your comment. Would you suggest creating specific pages for each NICHE?

  17. Patty says:

    I am a yoga teacher who would like to set up a freelance business, teaching private classes for individuals in their homes or offices, as well as teaching classes in corporate settings.

  18. Betina says:

    Great article as usual, James. I can see the possibilities of this thought on almost every business that comes to mind. The only one I would be still confused about is art and illustration – it envolves much about personal taste and identification with the artist and his work. How would I find a starving crowd on this niche?

    That would also be my suggestion for the series ;)

    • James Clear says:

      Great question, Betina. I’ll have to think on it some more before I can give a clear answer, but my gut response is this: in markets where there is a strong desire (i.e. many people want to buy art), but many solutions to that problem (there are essentially countless artists to buy from), the best approach is to create a mini-market that falls in love with your particular work.

      What you’re talking about isn’t really finding a starving market. The market for art is big.

      What you’re talking about is being recognized within that market.

      If you want to become recognized in a crowded market, there are two options (and perhaps some more I’m not thinking of) that come to mind. 1. Become so good they can’t ignore you. 2. Be more consistent than everyone else. Ship on time, every time. Market your work constantly. Be everywhere.

      Hopefully that helps!

  19. This is a great idea for a series and will probably help a lot of people. I am trying to sell my knitted items online and wonder if you would be doing a post about selling your crafts online?

    • James Clear says:

      Hey Anne — thanks for reading! There will definitely be an article about selling online. I’m not sure if it will focus on knitted items, but many of the lessons should apply to you. :)

  20. Joy Mo says:

    It’s so true James. I think I’ve found my starving crowd. The question is, how much they can afford my services and products?

    • James Clear says:

      If you were really starving, how much would you pay for a hamburger?

      My guess is a lot. And if you really do have a starving market, then they will probably be willing to pay a premium price as well.

      (Sidenote: pricing is always tricky, however. The only way to really know what people are willing to pay is to test different prices.)

  21. Jasianna Chaley says:

    James……love everything you share! Would love to hear a unique way of marketing one’s piano services (ie parties like for Christmas) and/or lessons……would you specialize in a specific age group, for example with lessons or particular type of music? Thanks!

    • James Clear says:

      Interesting. I don’t play the piano, so I’m just throwing some ideas out there, but my guess is that the best money could be made by playing corporate parties and events.

      Imagine playing a “piano bar” type of style at a corporate party. It would be classy, you would be a huge hit, and companies would pay you top dollar. I know comedians make great money by doing corporate gigs like that. It seems like a piano player could do the same.

  22. Sheila says:

    I have heard the same theory, but you put it best! I can’t wait to read the new series. I’m also thinking right now about those starving crowds…who are they, where they are, what they need…thanks for the food for thought.

  23. I love the concept of this series and I’d be very interested in learning more about the body image niche. I’m having a super hard time getting readers to buy courses and invest in themselves.

    • James Clear says:

      Interesting. What type of courses are you selling?

      • I’m selling courses on learning to love your body and accepting your natural shape. I’ve created a more affordable 28 day course where students will get a daily dose of body image empowerment (videos, mantras, positive affirmations, tips and tricks on feeling better inside their bodies) and I’m working on a more extensive course about body image empowerment that goes very deep and uncovers a lot of issues and empowers students to look beyond their bodies and focus on other strengths, as well as giving them detailed tips on how to improve their body image and find their self-worth.

        • James Clear says:

          Got it. My gut reaction is that it’s probably a copywriting issue or a traffic issue.

          My experience has been that copywriting will make all the difference.

          I would suggest browsing forums, sending our surveys, and interviewing your target audience to understand — in their own words — how they state their problem. Then, use those words and phrases on your sales page. You want them to feel like you understand exactly what they are going through. Only once that is done can you convince them to buy.

          I would suggest reading Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz for more copywriting advice.

          If it’s not copywriting, then it could be a traffic issue. You have to make sure that you’re getting the right people visiting your site. If I’m confident with my body image, then it doesn’t matter how good the product or copy is … I’m not buying.

          Hope that helps! Good luck!

  24. Christina says:

    80% of people who exercise, do so outdoors.

    Searching for ways to finding a niche of folks that will actually pay for a monthly membership to participate in our classes. Seems like there are some hungry folks for the outdoors. Your article got me thinking!

  25. Franky De Jesus says:

    Hi James,

    I would like to learn how to create an ezine around IM or self-improvement or a combination of both. This is the thing I’m passionate about right now.

  26. Zara says:

    Another great idea from Passive Panda. I work in a niche market and am struggling to communicate my value so if you want to have a look at “legal research and writing” aka “legal process outsourcing” then I would love to hear what you think!

  27. Daxtin McClellan says:

    Hey James awesome article. I’m always excited to read what you have to say. I’m a tattoo artist with a big rep around town. I’d like your opinion on if I should open this tattoo shop now or put the effort into marketing and pushing my newly polished iPhone app. Please check out my site and let me know what you think. Thanks

  28. Robert Crouch says:

    I would like a presentation on how to create phone App’s

  29. Sounds really cool! Definitely looking forward to hearing about a bunch of different ideas and how you would start. Also love the quote about finding hungry customers. That’s the biggest thing when starting a business online or offline. Most people throw together a crappy product and try to market it like crazy, when in reality if the just created a good product that people actually wanted to buy, they would hardly need to do any marketing at all!


  30. Poche says:

    I stay in South Africa and I am selling a product but I do not seem to get customers. What am I doing wrong? I have been advertising and doing pamphlets, but it does not seem to work. Do you have to pay for the Remora Method? Thanks for the advice on Passive Panda, you rock!

  31. Ideta Sylvester says:

    Hello, thanks for your article. I want to start a small business that offer health screening at construction sites and on the road side. I need aname that reflect the speed that I need to use without wasting time from the workmen and other passers. Can you help me with such a name or ideas. Thank you.

  32. Timothy says:


    Great advice. It’s exactly what I did just two months ago when I launched my new business “Jacobs Writing Consultants, LLC.” The most important step is to take the first step! Keep the good advice coming.


  33. Lisa says:


    Yet another great to the point article. I am trying to figure out what it is about your articles that attract me. Honestly I delete a majority of messages that are received without reading. Yours beckon to be read.

    I would appreciate your perspective on viral blogging systems. I recently became involved with one that people are having a lot of financial success with. Any thoughts?

  34. Dan says:

    Hi James,
    You have come up with a great idea and by breaking it down, make the learning process much simpler. I have been in the security business for over 20 years from security officer to security manager and would like to branch out on my own. There are many security companies out there and competition is pretty fierce. I would like to offer specific niches or services to differentiate myself from others. I’m hoping to follow your advice and feedback.

  35. christina says:

    Some great tips made that I’ll surely be bearing in mind for the future.

    Thanks a lot!

  36. Great article and awesome story from Gary Halbert.

  37. James says:

    A fantastic simple approach.
    Every business owner should take a look at this article as it emphasises the reasons for creating a business in the first place. What would any business be without any customers!

  38. Nazia Style says:

    This is a great idea for a series and will probably help a lot of people. I am trying to sell my knitted items online and wonder if you would be doing a post about selling your crafts online?

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