10 Things You Need to Know Before Starting An Online Business
We’ve all heard those stories about online business entrepreneurs – Instagram influencers getting paid well over $5,000 per post, Youtubers worth millions of dollars and bloggers making $10,000 a month within six months of starting their blog. To a starry eyed entrepreneur, it’s Barry White to your ears.
It’s especially perfect if you’re setting up your own service based business and want to direct traffic to your blog and generate some passive income (because we all know that trading time for money is just another J.O.B. and who starts a business to get bogged down with one of those again?).
It seems like the perfect scenario, at least, it did to me. My plan?
Build a glorious blog.
People will read it and think it’s splendiferous and will share my posts with all their friends and my blog will go viral as shit.
Sign up to ALL the social media accounts and everybody will follow me and like me and want to collab and I’ll basically be as famous as Kylie Jenner.
Write an eBook and give it away for free and everyone will want to get their hands on it so much that they subscribe at once to my newsletter.
In my newsletter and blog posts I’ll cleverly drop in affiliate links and people will click on them because I’ll follow the formula all the articles and books told me to use. In just two months, I’ll earn a full time income in commission alone while I’m sitting on the couch drinking a good red and watching Vikings.
I’ll be able to quit my day job, work on my laptop from a resort in Bali and buy my dream home in six months. It’s foolproof. Foolproof, I tell you.
Here’s what actually happened:
I built a glorious blog, set up social media accounts, busted my ass writing an eBook, setting up subscriber services and signing up as an affiliate to everybody whose products I was in love with; manually posted on all the social media several times a day at the “right” times a day; ran Facebook ads; joined Facebook groups; learned all about Instagram hashtags; participated in link/like parties; commented on every other blog in Christendom; and stayed up until 3 am almost every night writing carefully planned out and edited blog posts.
My mum was the only one who read them (thanks mama, God bless you, I love you).
My undeserved feelings of confidence in my plan were mainly brought about by the sensational clickbait circulating on social media like:
How I earned $3,500 a month in the first three months of blogging part time
How I make $10,000 per month from my blog
Six figure coaching business in six months
It’s enough to make you want to quit your job tomorrow.
Before you go burning bridges, or booking round the world trips in the anticipation that your blog is going to start rolling in the $$$ within months, quick pro quo.
Those seductive headlines should come with the same disclaimer they put on weight loss products:
Results not typical. Your results may vary.
So many of the blog groups I am on are littered with the genuine confusion of new bloggers who have been blogging for three months and are yet to make their first dollar. “Am I doing something wrong?” they lament. “I’m three months into my blog and I haven’t made a cent. What about all those blog posts that say they made their first $2,000 in two months of blogging? I’m doing all the things they say they’re doing in their income reports. Why isn’t it working for me?”
Do pardon the rain all over your parade, but let me tell you the most important thing I have learned:
Blogging/starting an online business is NOT a get-rich-quick scheme.
It is NOT “build it and they will come”.
And is certainly NOT “money for jam”.
If you start a blog or an online business with any preconceived notion that for a few hours’ work a week and little financial investment you’ll be rolling in dough in a year, then sweetheart, prepare to get your heart broken.
Here’s what having an online business, or really any sort of business, actually IS (at least in the startup phase):
It is a marathon, rather than a sprint.
It is work – like, not your standard 8 hour day… more like a 12 hour day plus whatever extra you can get away with during your “downtime” after dinner. Often, it is going to bed at 3 am (and many nights, not at all). It oscillates between skyrocketing progress and demoralising stagnation. In the tritest sense: it is blood, sweat and tears. It is personal. Isolating. Bursting with pride at your efforts and despairing that no one might ever see them. You will love what you do so much and be terrified you’re going to suck horribly at it.
If you want an easy life, building a serious online business is NOT for you (at least, not at first).
You have to love it. Like anything else, no matter what career you choose, you have to love it.
All that said… if you’re still sticking around and it sounds like your kind of thing…
Here’s what you need to know.
1 No free sites (e.g. yourname.wordpress.com)
Just don’t. It looks unprofesh and if the platform goes bust, so does all your hard work (RIP to the Angelfire website I had when I was 15).
I used to be with Wix and I really did love it. Wix is fantastic if you have a small business and don’t have any serious blogging aspirations, or if you have a storefront/face to face service business and are using Wix for an online presence. In other words, if you have a small (1-5 page) website, I would still highly recommend Wix.
However, for my exclusively online business, and because I am predominantly blogging, I have recently switched over to Squarespace. Here’s why:
Wix was expensive. I had my email, hosting and mailing list bundled with them, and each for a separate fee. This added up over a month.
I kept losing data. Randomly, without warning, and for no reason Wix shut down my email and my mailouts and I couldn’t access them anymore. I emailed several times and had no response. Because I wasn’t self hosted, Wix technically owns all that content, so essentially days of hard work has been lost.
It was sagging under the weight of a lot of blog posts. Once I started to add more than 3-4 pages, it got slow to load and navigate, particularly for slow and mobile connections. This was costing me traffic.
So here’s what I did instead:
Popped on over to www.squarespace.com.
Picked out a simple, easy to set up template.
Followed the easy, step by step prompts to build a website I’m so in love with.
2 It will take you a long time to find your voice and that’s fine.
Whether you’re blogging, writing copy for your service based business, whatever. You will get advice to write with a unique angle or voice or style. You’ll start off being all poetic and artistic, or on the other end of the spectrum your posts will look a lot like your Grade 12 English essays and be kind of stiff, overly polite and formal, clumsily written, structured to the point of alienating, and/or overly grammatically perfect. Or worse, you’ll get so scared about having a unique voice and getting your posts right you won’t be able to write anything at all and will spend literally hours just staring at a blank cursor until you involuntarily start to tear up.
Fuck it. Your voice will probably change a squillion times. It’s fine. Just get content up there so you don’t bust your bum trying to market a website with nothing on it. You can change it or delete the really shitty posts later. It’s your online business. That’s the beauty of it. You can do that.
Which brings me to…
3 Screw perfect.
It won’t be perfect at first, so get over it and get started. Newsflash: Your first website, your first blog posts, your first workshop, your first coaching session, your first product, your first speaking engagement… whatever it is – is probably going to be a cringeworthy suckfest to you in five years’ time no matter how much you try to make it “perfect” now. Get over it, do your best but get it done and out there, otherwise your need to “get it perfect” will paralyse you from ever getting started at all.
My overly-obsessive Virgoan need to get everything perfect before I launched my online business and later, before I even published a blog post, was costing me dozens of squandered hours. And it still wasn’t perfect. In fact, my first websites were absolute pus buckets. I’ll probably look back on this site someday and think it’s a pus bucket. You will change and evolve. You will refine your message and strengthen your voice as your target audience becomes clearer to you. Just get started.
The same goes for service based business, accepting public speaking engagements, or running your own workshops. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you need to do “more training” or “more study” or “more practice” or “more research” after you’ve gained your qualifications. Fuck that. You will never know all there is to know. Accept that and start going out there, fucking it up, learning from it and refining your craft.
4 Don’t quit your day job.
At least, not yet. Oh, there’s the sort of romantic commitment and anxiety-ridden pressure to make it work because you have no other choice that is undoubtedly fuel for success, but on the other side of the coin, if you’re relying on your income to… well… survive and/or keep fiduciary and familial commitments, all of a sudden your online business becomes about the money rather than the passion for what you’re actually doing which will only build frustration and resentment when the phone’s not ringing and the traffic isn’t rising. Your passion becomes another grind, you reek of desperation when you’re dealing with prospects and you fatigue fast when you don’t see results = burnout.
Having a secure source of income – whether that’s part time or full time – while you’re building up the presence of your online business takes the pressure off. This is when you can focus on building great content and copy, or offering your services pro bono to build up your experience.
5 Your About Me page isn’t actually about you. None of it is about you.
Think about why you have ever sat up at 2 am on Google. It isn’t usually to read someone else’s public diary. It’s 2 am. You’re generally not awake and Googling because you have nothing better to do. You’re awake and Googling because you have a problem (which could be that you can’t sleep). Your potential client/reader is Googling for help with a problem, advice, tips, tutorials and guides. Your goal is to be seen as their solution.
When someone clicks on your ‘About Me’ page, they aren’t really that interested in your business qualifications, your cat or your business acumen. People are looking for someone to relate to. They are looking for someone who “gets it”, who knows their struggle. They are looking for someone who knows exactly what they want and exactly how to help them get it. Once you’ve done all that, you can share your business and a bit about yourself to help them relate.
Same goes for your ‘Services’ page. When people are interested in working with you, they’re likely not interested in your college education or the features of your program. They want to know how it benefits them. They want to be confident you understand their problem and that you know exactly how to help. Your services page should again highlight you know your prospect’s struggle and outline the results they will get from working with you before you get into details about how it works. Appeal to the emotion first.
And as for your blog? Same deal again. Even when writing a personal post, write from the angle of “helping” your readers, even if it’s just by relating to their own struggles and sharing some lessons you’ve learned along the way.
6 Surround Yourself With Like Minded People.
The idea of being able to work from home in your pyjamas isn’t just romantic when you’re commuting to work every day: it’s downright sexy. It’s hotter than Hugh Jackman’s biceps. And from someone who’s already doing it: yeah, it’s pretty fucking cool.
Here’s what’s not cool though.
I mean, on top of holing yourself up in your office all day you’re also probably not going out and socialising as much, especially if you’re in the timesucking start up phase. And the worst of it is, you don’t even notice that it’s happening until you realise that you’re bailing up the postie for 10 minutes every day until she starts avoiding you, and when you do have to socialise or interact with other people you become anxious, avoidant and socially awkward. It is slightly scary how quickly you can lose your conversation skills when you hole yourself up in your own house every day.
But here’s the other reason why you need to stay connected with like minded people: you need to be surrounded with proof that it’s possible. I’m not going to tell you to ditch your 9 to 5 friends who make $4000 a month, but I am telling you that you need to find yourself a community of people who are doing the things you are trying to achieve.
Surrounding yourself with people who are already out there doing the do does three things:
It shows you that it’s possible. By getting a tangible glimpse at actual people who are already doing what you want to do and getting the actual results you want to get, rather than just reading stories of faceless people on the internet, you begin to gather social proof that if they can do it, so can you. It’s not just a pipe dream anymore, it’s something people are actually out there doing.
You can share insights and knowledge and raise each other up. You can cross-promote, network, share opportunities and give each other advice. The blogging community I’ve met online have been the biggest help in starting my own blog than anything else I’ve encountered.
Finally, they will support you, hold you accountable to a higher standard and be your biggest cheerleaders. Because they are vibrating on the same frequency, they are chasing the same goals, they know your struggles, your frustrations, your challenges and what excites you excites them. They understand how an entrepreneur’s mindset works and are usually into the same things. They know the difference between a real struggle and a bullshit excuse. It is likely that they won’t discourage you. They’re not going to say “Wow, making money off the internet… isn’t that a little risky?”
So how do you find some new entrepreneurial friends? Facebook groups, Facebook groups, Facebook groups. These communities have been total GAMECHANGERS for my online business. A quick Facebook search, depending on the business you’re looking at setting up, will help you find a community of like minded people who are in the same boat as you and they will be your biggest cheerleaders, mentors and support.
7 Be a Shameless Self Promoter.
If you won’t promote yourself, nobody will. If you like to be modest, humble and self-deprecating, owning your own online business is not for you. Here’s how I used to be talking to people at parties when the inevitable “What do you do?” question comes up.
Person at a Party: So, what do you do?
My Brain: Say you’re a blogger! Say you’re a coach! Tell them about your website!
Me: Uhh… I’m a… medical t-typist.
Who’s going to hire you if you’re not confident about yourself? Nobody!! People buy from people they know, like and trust. If you don’t even show that you trust yourself to deliver, how are you ever going to convince anybody else?
Start practicing telling EVERYBODY what you do. Promote it to everyone. Tell your hairdresser, your friends, your grandmother. Share your posts on your personal Facebook page. Send your friends list invites to Like your page. Hell, do what my mentor did and walk through your town handing out business cards to people on the footpath telling them about your business. Tell the postie. Tell the dog wash lady. Show you’re proud of it. Show you’re passionate about it. A nod to Emma Stone in La La Land here: “People love what people are passionate about.”
Have no shame. Be willing to make a bit of an ass of yourself. Say YES to everything and find out how. If someone asks for a business card or the link to your website actually SEND IT TO THEM – and the hell with it, send them your freebie while you’re at it. If you have any hesitation about telling people about your online business at all, it is critical to learn to overcome it. Your fear of rejection will break you. It is the number one most important thing you need to get over if you want to succeed. If you need a hand with this, feel free to shout out.
8 Set Yourself Up For Productivity Success
Have a designated office “area” – somewhere you can be free of distraction, where you go solely to work and for no other purpose. Get straight with time management. Work at times when you’re at your most energised, focused and productive. Invent a schedule and flow that works best for you. Oh, one more thing here. People will assume that when you are working on your online business it’s some sort of hobby you’re doing for fun in your “down time” and therefore it is subject to negotiation and it’s not a priority. Learn to say “no” and mean it.
9 Set Aside Time To Take Care of Yourself and Your Relationships
Especially when you’ve still got your day job, it’s tempting to spend every other waking moment on your online business and get a bit of tunnel vision. Perfectly normal. But after a few months of tunnel vision your nails are a mess, you’ve forgot what a good night’s sleep feels like, you and your family have been living on microwave frozen meals and takeaway for a month now, and your husband has forgotten what you even look like.
This happens a lot, particularly in the start-up phase, but it’s important to remember why you’re starting this thing in the first place: for you. For work life balance. For your family. So tend to yourself, and tend to them. That means 20 minutes of uninterrupted time per day with your spouse, technology free, to connect and one date night a week; and committing to giving yourself an hour of self care a day. It’s oft repeated; but always needed: you cannot serve from an empty cup, so make sure it’s always full.
10 Screw waiting until you get “enough traffic” or “enough followers” to monetise your online business
Sure, it’s not about the money but also: monetise the shit out of your business from day one. The sooner money hits your Paypal account, the better. Sign up to affiliate programs, get an ad program, bust out a product, freelance, get your Services page launched, whatever. The sooner you can bring the moolah in, the more legit you feel, the more confident you are talking to prospects, the faster the momentum (and your business) builds. As Danielle LaPorte says: “No money ,no business.” Get it in the door ASAP.
So so much more to write here. I feel like I’ve burned your eyes out enough for one day. More to come. In short:
It’s not a get rich quick scheme and it’s not easy money – if you’re not passionate about whatever it is you’re doing, keep walkin’.
No free sites: get legit and profesh right away: it shows you’re stepping up and committing and taking your shit seriously cos if you don’t, no one else will.
Fuck perfection: just get out there and do your best.
Say YES and work out how.
Don’t quit your day job yet: take the pressure off yourself.
None of it is about you.
Cultivate your tribe carefully.
Shamelessly promote your business.
Take care of you.
Get the money in the door from day one.
Marathon, not a sprint.
Consistency over perfectionism.
You got this.