Online business. Internet business. You’ve heard the words and been intrigued by the idea. But what exactly is an online business?
An online business is a profitable exchange of goods or services over the internet — creating passive income for you, and providing valuable resources to your customers.
It’s different from a bricks-and-mortar business in that it’s available all day, every day, and has the potential to reach potential customers from all over the world. There are no barriers of time or distance.
An online business opens incredible possibilities for you, the owner, and your potential customers:
Are there drawbacks?
Certainly — the statistics provide evidence of failure. For example, when we analyzed the traffic of websites created on the most popular blogging platforms, 74% to 87% of them have zero to near-zero traffic.
The most successful way to create an online business is to build a website full of high quality, reliable information for which you’re viewed as an authority. But it’s not enough simply to build a website — you have to understand your potential customers.
As you learn about the problems, needs, and desires of your growing audience, your online business can offer products and services to help resolve them. Without that critical understanding, all you have is a website.
The question is, how do you take all these shifting parts and mold them into one coherent whole?
Let us be your guide. We’ll analyze five critical points in online business growth. And we’ll start where we need to start — at the beginning.
Some would have you believe it’s an easy step — “build a website in a few minutes.”
It’s true — building a nice-looking website can be done in minutes (well at least several hours). But you need to take it a step further and turn your website into a successful business. Here’s how...
By starting with your passion. As a smart online business owner, it’s now your job to take everything you know and turn it into educational and inspirational content that your ideal visitor is searching for.
Although you may be reluctant at first, your knowledge and experience, written in your voice and with your dedication, have the potential to help your audience, solve problems, and transform their lives?
Then and only then you should find a way to build a beautiful-looking website. Don't get worried about not being tech-savvy enough. Even if you know nothing about websites or coding, we've got the tools to help you succeed.
If building a pretty website is not your starting point, what is? As we talk about in our guide to starting an online business, there's an equation for success.
Step 1: Brainstorm ideas for your potential online business
You want to find a topic that truly resonates with you and has business potential. Start by making a list of all your interests, hobbies, skills and experiences.
What things are you good at? Which problems do you repeatedly solve for friends, family or colleagues? Write everything down that comes to mind. Then pick your three top ideas and proceed to step two.
Step 2: Research and compare your top three ideas
Keyword brainstorming will play a big role in comparing your business ideas. You'll also spend time researching your "ideal site visitor" — your potential customer – and understanding what will give real value to them.
Only when you understand specifically who this is, can you start to consider how to help them.
Use these six factors to guide your decision about the best possible business niche for you:
Step 3: Pick a domain name and start creating your website
Your next step is to choose a domain name for your fledgling business. A name you'll love so much that you'll get goosebumps when you see it each day!
After you've registered your domain, it's time to finally start building your website! Don't worry about knowing how to do everything right now. Your website can be improved incrementally over the days and months ahead.
Exactly the kind of online business you like to visit. The website design, together with your content, will encourage your audience — the very site visitors you've identified — to stay awhile.
Step 4: Grow your audience
Before you can make any sales, you need people to find your business online. There are many ways to promote your website, but our customers have found the most success with content marketing.
That's why we teach people to start by filling out their website with excellent, useful content to attract and “pre-sell” their ideal customers. And we can show you how to use keyword brainstorming tools to create content people are searching for.
Step 5: Monetize
Once you have traffic, there are plenty of online business models to consider.
For example, you can promote other people's products to earn commissions (affiliate marketing), start an ecommerce business or sell digital products.
Now that you are ready to get started, where can you go to find online business ideas?
Perhaps you think about your passion, but nothing comes to mind. Even if you have ideas, you may not be sure they're achievable.
We have the answer.
You may already have a solid idea for your online business, but if you don’t, that’s ok. We have plenty of resources to help you find inspiration and ideas for a home-based business.
First, though, let’s talk about where not to start looking for ideas: any company putting their profits over your success. Any company telling you it’s easy to make thousands overnight is a scam, pure and simple.
The process of starting a profitable online business is simple in its essence, but it is NOT easy.
Starting any business, online or not, is one of the most exciting — and scariest — things you’ll ever do. Creating a solid foundation is critical.
Follow these steps to start with a winning idea:
Remember: Monetization comes last in this process. Choosing your niche and working out who your ideal customer is comes first.
So, here’s where to start:
Consider your ideal niche. Then think about your ideal customer. The niche you’d be happy to write about, the person you would enjoy doing business with, for years to come.
Do your homework. See what's out there. You can use web analytics like Alexa traffic rankings to see how well your competition is doing.
If it's been done endlessly, could you give it your own positioning or twist? Could you beat or at least match, your competitors?
Evaluate potential. Is this a niche you could, in time, monetize? If so, then move forward.
Compare your ideas and choose the best one. If you’re not sure whether there are any customers out there, take a look in forums, social media, and books. What questions are people asking? What answers could you give that are unique to you?
Remember, competition in a niche can be a good thing – it can show you that there is market demand for information, products, and services. So don’t let a little competition frighten you because we are going to help you outsmart them all.
From photography to writing services to storytelling to vlogging to social media management to content marketing…
If you’re in the market for a digital product or service, find inspiration from these 95 successful online businesses and the influencers who started them.
Where to next?
You’re starting to get followers. Now you want to turn them into repeat visitors and, eventually, raving fans.
Starting an email list is the single most important way to achieve both those things. It’s the most effective way to connect directly with potential customers..
It’s personal. It’s affordable. And it’s easy to use your knowledge of your audience to target different groups with different needs.
And, most importantly, whereas social media platforms may come and go, your email list is yours. You wouldn’t build your house on someone else’s land, so don’t build your audience and business on someone else’s website.
The starting point for your email marketing strategy is not different from anything else: identify a problem or need and address it.
Step 1: Choose an email marketing platform.
Build a strong relationship, right from the start, by setting up an autoresponder — email marketing software that automatically sends a series of personalized messages to every new subscriber.
Step 2: Establish a regular email schedule.
Decide on a schedule and regularly email your list. Whether you send a newsletter, helpful articles, or promotional offers, make sure you deliver what you promised when people handed over their email address.
Over-thinking your email marketing process can lead to procrastination. And procrastination can lead to email phobia. Discover how to beat it before it starts.
Step 3: Analyze and optimize.
Analyze and optimize. Subscribers should look forward to your emails, but they won't like everything equally. Analytics will tell you which messages have the most engagement, so you'll know what works and what doesn't.
Here are 5 simple tips to boost your open rates, and get more of your subscribers reading.
Step 4: Sell products and services with email marketing.
When you learn to use email marketing funnels, your email list becomes a powerful selling tool, reaching the right people, with the right product, at the right time.
Step 5: Segment your email list.
Your list is growing. Segmenting is an email marketing strategy that will help you rocket it into the stratosphere. You'll have different groups within your email list. For example, people who have bought and those who haven't.
You'll have people who have clicked on links about one topic and those who've shown interest in another.
Segmenting enables you to target different members of the list with the most relevant content, boosting engagement and sales.
For more on segmenting and other tips, check out our list of email marketing best practices.
So you have your niche. You’re the proud owner of a website. You’re growing your mailing list.
Where to now?
Like it or loathe it, social media is here to stay. And it can be a powerful tool, a cornerstone of your online business growth strategy.
Your website is a platform for sharing knowledge, experience, and information. Social media is a way of showing the personal side of your business. It has become a critical way to connect and build a trusting relationship with customers.
It takes the brand awareness you’ve started to build with email marketing and grows it even more.
There are about three billion people across the globe now using at least one social platform. And there’s evidence that the adult population, at least, doesn’t trust a brand unless they can see proof that it’s looking after its customers. That might involve responding to critical Tweets about a service or offering a helpful Facebook Live demonstration of a product new to the market.
The most important factor in social marketing? Consistency. If you can’t be consistent, don’t start.
Step 1: Learn the basics.
Work out the basics of social media for business. Learn how to separate personal and business needs, which “voice” to use on different platforms, and how to respond to the inevitable negative comments.
Don't assume one platform will be better for your online business than another. Remember: it's not what you enjoy that matters. It's where your audience is.
Step 2: Find out where your people are.
Social media can be a time-consuming activity. Deciding which of a growing number of channels to use is critical — trying to use them all is a sure way to insanity.
The starting point here, as with everything, is your ideal customer and where she is.
Not everyone uses Facebook, and not everyone likes Twitter. If you have a niche that's visually attractive — a travel site, or one about cute puppies, for example — consider a more visual platform like Pinterest or Instagram.
Before you decide, consider the differences between Pinterest and Instagram, and which is best for your niche.
Step 3: Stay consistent.
Stay consistent by posting often and engaging with your followers. The most common complaint about social media is finding the time to do it. After all, as a solopreneur you'll be doing more or less everything for your business.
So find a way to manage it. Learn how to use Buffer, Hootsuite, or Tailwind to plan and schedule posts in advance. If your online business is making money, consider hiring a Virtual Assistant to manage your social media accounts.
You'll find more tips in this article dedicated to social media growth.
Although social media is a good way to connect with your audience, it's not necessarily the best place to sell products, at least in the beginning.
The best place to sell products is your website.
"I created a blog and failed. I couldn't get enough traffic to it. Then I discovered SBI!. They taught me how to build the infrastructure that turned into a successful online business.
- Travis Wilkerson, www.learn-stock-options-trading.com"
Making money is the reason most solopreneurs start creating an online business.
Putting all your monetization eggs in one basket, though, is a dangerous strategy. Having different income streams is crucial.
Read on for some proven strategies to start making money from your website.
Step 1: Place ads on your website.
Many people begin their monetization strategy with programs like Google AdSense, but they're much less productive than they used to be — ad-blockers have reduced incomes for small online businesses.
Step 2: Join an affiliate marketing program for beginners.
Selling other people's products on your site means no need to deal with shipping or customer service. It's simple to do well, and it can bring substantial rewards.
Step 3: Sell an ebook.
If you're already writing content for your website, chances are you can write an ebook. It doesn't have to be long, and writing for the Kindle market means you can use software you're already used to.
Master the basics of ebook creation, including writing, formatting, and the best place to start making sales.
Step 4: Create more advanced digital information products.
Whether you sell letter-writing skills, guitar tutorials, webinars, or language apps, anything that will help your potential customer could become a product idea.
Step 5: Develop your own online course.
Online courses are one of the most time-consuming, and potentially the most profitable, monetization streams of all.
Use a combination of methods we’ve already looked at — autoresponders, audio and video, tutorials, live webinars, and your writing skills. WordPress users will also find help in courseware plugins.
For even more strategies, take a look at our collection of 50 best-kept monetization secrets, right here.
There you have the foundations of a successful online business: finding inspiration, building a website, email marketing, using social media, and developing monetization streams.
At the start, middle and end of it all is your potential customer. You have an online business in you, and your ideal customer is waiting.
Make sure you get to know her before you start.