Interview with a Savings Expert: Stephen Chou

There are two types of people in this world: those that complain about their situation and those that actually do something about it. Stephen Chou’s wife decided to break away from the 9-to-5 and start an online business. Stephen has since become an expert on e-commerce, and his blog, My Wife Quit Her Job, has helped inspire many readers to quit their day jobs in order to pursue other business endeavors.

If you’re stuck in the daily grind but have an idea for a great business start-up, read on for some of Stephen’s insightful advice.

You started My Wife Quit Her Job after some major changes occurred in your life. You and your wife were both feeling burned out and uninspired in your respective careers. Then you started a family, and your wife decided to quit her job. You took on a huge risk by choosing to start an online store, which has since proven to be quite successful. What did you want to accomplish when you launched your own business?

Since my wife wanted to quit her job, our goal was primarily to replace her lost income with our online store. She made about 100K/year at the time, so that was our main target. In fact, that was all we expected to ever make from this business venture.

On your site, you write that more than 90% of people who start their own businesses fail because “of a lack of confidence, persistence, and faith.” What are some steps that new business owners can take to succeed?

Here are a few things that can drastically increase your chances.

1.  Find a mentor. This is key. You can easily waste both time and money if you have absolutely no idea what you are doing.

2.  Do the niche research, and run the numbers first. Most people jump right in with their businesses, because they are passionate about an idea. But what really matters are the numbers.

3. Start out small. Don't try to knock it out of the park with your first business. Instead, just go for a base hit, and then gradually expand.

You’re raising a family while trying to run your online business. Although you were able to replace your wife’s salary of $100,000 within one year, you still face the financial uncertainties that come with running your own business. What has been the biggest challenge in terms of budgeting your money?

Ironically, running our online store has been very steady in terms of income. In fact, ever since we started it, it's been growing in the double and even triple digits for the past five years.

So, we haven't really faced any budgeting uncertainties. Plus, I still work my full time job as an electrical engineer which is very stable and in high demand.

In the “Our Story” section, you write about you and wife suffering from the “dreaded condition known as complacency” before you started on this adventure. You both felt like your lives were stuck in boring routines that did little to ignite your professional passions. This unhappiness ultimately led to the two of you revamping your lives. There were other considerations that went into your wife’s decision to leave her job. What do you think is the number one reason people should quit their day jobs?

I don't actually advocate anyone quitting their jobs without a game plan set in place. Otherwise, it can create a bunch of anxiety and stress. The number one reason people should quit their day jobs is if they have something more important or more lucrative that they want to pursue.

My wife wanted to quit her job to stay at home with the kids and that decision was worth more than a six figure salary to her.

Nearly 3,000 people have liked your site on Facebook. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a reader?

The best piece of advice I ever received from a reader was to produce an online course. After my blog hit the two year mark, I was getting all sorts of requests to put together one big cohesive tutorial on e-commerce. It was because of this advice that I got the courage to launch my online store course.

Most people stay in their day jobs because of the security and comfort that comes with a steady position (even if they’re totally unhappy in the job they have.) What is the biggest myth that people believe that prevents them from quitting their day jobs and establishing their own businesses?

The biggest myth is that you need a lot of money or technical know how to begin. Most people think that starting an online store is expensive, but you can literally start for as little as five bucks a month. Because the software is all written for you, all you have to do is customize the look and feel to suit your needs.  

There are many templates that you can buy as well which can drastically accelerate the web design process. We started our online store for only $630. Today, you can start for much much less.

Your online business, Bumblebee Linens, has become immensely successful. Your products have been featured in magazines like Brides and Martha Stewart Weddings. But, there must have been some bumps along the way. What is the one thing you wish someone had told you when you first started your online business?

This is a tough one. If I had to pick one thing, it would have been to seek out and find a mentor earlier. I have this tendency to do and figure out things all by myself. And while it's great to be self-sufficient, sometimes I end up wasting a bunch of time reinventing the wheel. Seek out help early on. The time and money invested in a mentor is priceless.

In “How To Start a Blog and Why Blogging Can Be Better Than E-Commerce,” you give many suggestions to people just starting out as bloggers. What do you think is the most important first step for bloggers to consider? What are the top mistakes beginner bloggers make?

The top mistake a blogger makes is just focusing 100% on the writing. In reality, the content portion of a blog is only a small percentage of what it takes to make a blog successful.

The most important piece of the puzzle is promotion and networking with other like-minded webmasters. Ideally, you should spend more time promoting your blog than doing actual writing. After all, if people can't find your blog, they won't be reading your content either.

You teach a “Create a Profitable Online Store” course that details the ways in which you’ve been able to build a successful online business. Have your students taught you any important lessons?

One thing that I've learned is that every student is different. Some students are very adept technically but are horrible at marketing, whereas some people can barely use a computer but are excellent writers.

When I first launched my course, I had a strict set of assumptions about who I was teaching. And early on, my teaching style didn't always gel with the diversity of students I was getting.

Today, I tailor my material depending on my students’ personalities and make custom recommendations based on their strengths. After all, everyone is different, and there is no set formula for success.

Thank you so much for taking part in this interview! You’ve helped so many people take their dreams of running their own businesses and turned them into a reality. Any last pieces of advice you can share with the CouponPal readers?

CouponPal rocks. My only piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to go ahead and take a chance. When all it takes is five bucks to start a business, what the heck is stopping you?

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with a Savings Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #SavingsExperts to @CouponPal!

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