How to Build an Online Business: A Step-by-Step Guide
If you’re building an online business (or thinking about doing so), I’m sure you quickly discovered how easy it is to get very caught up in the details and completely lose sight of the big picture.
I know I sure experience this! At least once a week I have to stop myself and say, “Wait, what am I doing? And why??” Even when I’m 100% focused on my specific goals, it can be easy to forget how they fit in with the simple premise of my business.
What that means is: This post is as much for me as it is for anyone! As someone who processes my thoughts on paper, I find it incredibly helpful to write about what I’m doing (or trying to do).
So this isn’t about my business specifically, but it IS about the overarching principles that govern most ANY online business.
Find Your People
A business, by definition, sells something to someone. Pretty much all business strategists agree: it’s better to start with the someone and then create the something. If you create something before you know who you’re creating it for, you might find out nobody wants it.
So, the first part of building an online business is finding your people whom you will eventually sell to. How do you do that? Follow a few simple steps
Step 1: Create Content to Attract an Audience
While technically you can skip this step (and simply run sales ads to cold traffic), the obvious truth is that your advertising dollars will go a WHOLE lot further if you’re selling to a warm audience.
The easiest, most effective way to warm up an audience? “Inbound Marketing”
Inbound marketing is simply the practice of attracting customers to you by offering up value before you try to sell.
So, instead of just pitching a paid offer to cold traffic, you create something of value and offer it for FREE first. This could be blog articles, video tutorials, templates, lives workshops, or any other type of free content.
The easier to access your content is, the more people you’ll be able to reach with it. That means that it’s generally best to offer up at least some good quality content 100% free (not even requiring people to opt-in with their email address).
There’s an expression in the writers’ community: An author’s worst enemy is to be unknown.
You want people to care about what you have to say? You want people to be interested in you? You want people to buy your stuff?
First, people have to know you even exist.
The more value you give for free, the greater the odds are that your work will be shared and more people will find out about you and what you have to offer.
The more people know about you, the greater your chances of success are.
So: give value!
What should you create & offer for free? There are only two rules:
Give what your audience WANTS
What does your audience want? They want their problems solved. What those problems are depends on who your audience is.
To discover exactly what your audience wants you need to engage with them. Seek them out where they already are. Talk to them. Discover what they need AND want. (Sometimes these two things aren’t 100% in alignment.)
As for consistency, there are two sides to this coin: consistent message (WHAT you say) and consistent frequency (how often you say it).
In summary: create valuable content that your intended audience is interested in, create it on a regular basis, be consistent with your message, and offer as much as possible for free.
Step 2: Promote Your Free Content
Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.*
If you consistently create high-value content then there’s a chance that you’ll be “discovered.” There’s even a chance your stuff will go crazy-viral.
But, it’s only a chance.
The fact is, there’s a whole ton of noise in the world today. Especially *information* noise. And especially online.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of other blogs you’re competing against. Millions of articles floating around the web.
Your chances of getting noticed if your content only lives on your website? Slim. At best.
The chances of your content getting really popular and attracting a huge following? Practically non-existent.
Tough love, maybe, but I’m not saying this to discourage. I’m just saying you need to promote!
Especially when you’re first starting out, you are your best (possibly ONLY) advocate. If you don’t speak up and share your stuff then you’ll remain anonymous.
Remember, to be a business you need to sell SOMETHING to SOMEONE. And if you want to connect with that someone then you need to reach out and make the first move — because they don’t even know you exist.
In summary: you need to promote your stuff!
How do you do this? There’s plenty of ways. Most of them fall into one of these categories:
Share on social media
Publish on social media
In short, get your amazing, helpful, FREE content in front of as many eyeballs as possible. The more people who see your stuff, the better chance you have of getting noticed and finding your true fans.
Engage Your Audience
Once you’ve found your audience, you really need to start talking to them.
And by talking to them, I mostly mean listening to them.
Step 1: Learn How to Listen
When you’re first starting out, you have to do the talking (or blogging, or podcasting, or whatever you do), because they don’t know that they want to talk to you yet.
(Well, let’s face it. They don’t even know you EXIST yet.)
But once you’ve done some creating and some promoting, then you can actually start to have a back-and-forth conversation.
You can email your audience, connect with them in Facebook groups, survey them…
And even if it’s a challenge to speak with them directly, your *metrics* can tell you a whole lot about what your audience is “saying.”
Simple little things like email open rates and Facebook ad conversion costs can provide tons of insight into what’s resonating with your audience and what’s not.
So, LISTEN. What is your audience interested in? What makes them click? What actually prompts them to hit “reply” or leave a comment on your latest blog post?
Find out what your audience wants so that you can give them more and more and more of that. This is how you deepen your relationships.
(Side note: “listening” is the key to deepening any relationship. Really. Try it.)
Step 2: Find Out What Your Audience Wants
Once you’ve mastered the art of listening, this step will be a piece of cake.
Don’t go creating the product you think your audience could benefit from.
Instead, talk to them, ask them questions, and listen to them. Find out what they WANT.
Because when it comes down to it, they aren’t going to buy anything they don’t want.
Even if you created something AMAZING that would help them so much — the fact is that it won’t help them at all if they don’t care.
Really focus in on what your audience’s pain points are, what questions they have, and what they are already seeking. Your business can’t help but be successful if you figure out how to give people what they already want.
I’ve said it a few times already, but here it is again: A business sells SOMETHING to SOMEONE.
Now you’ve found your someone, and you’ve discovered what they want. Now it’s your job to make it and deliver it.
Step 1: Make Something to Sell
How do you make something that someone wants to buy? There’s only one answer: make something they want to buy.
But seriously, as already stated, if you make something that is what someone wants to buy then they will want to buy it.
It’s obvious, but it’s true.
What’s also obvious is that quality matters.
It won’t matter for your first sale (because quality often isn’t able to be perceived until after the purchase takes place) but it will have a huge effect on the long-term sustainability and growth of your business.
Quite simply, quality makes people talk. Make your products so, so well that your customers gush about them to their peers. Word of mouth is the most amazing form of advertising. It has the highest conversion rate and is FREE.
Word of mouth is the most amazing form of advertising. It has the highest conversion rate and is FREE.
So make something that is what your people want, and make it very well. Easy? Probably not. Simple? Yes.
Step 2: Share Your Product
Once you have something to sell, offer it to your audience.
Not sure how to sell? Just focus on clearly explaining the benefits of your product:
*How* will your product help your customer?
*How* will their life be better if they purchase?
What is their most common objection? Find out and explain why this is a non-issue.
Price your product reasonably, but based on the results it creates (as opposed to how much time it took you to create, or how much the paper you printed it on cost). How much money is the impact your product will have worth?
If you’ve created the right product (the one that your audience actually wants) and you price it appropriately (not too high OR too low) then simply explaining the benefits will be all you need to do to sell.
Step 3: Promote Your Product
If your “sharing” went well, then you can move on to the final step, which is to promote your product.
(If your sharing did NOT go well, then go back to listening to your audience. You didn’t create the right thing. Find out what they REALLY want.)
Promoting your product beyond your immediate audience (email list, social media following, etc) takes two primary forms: collaborations and paid advertising.
Collaborations are preferred because they are generally free and convert the best. You have instant credibility when you’re introduced by a trusted expert. Collaborations might include being featured on the blog, podcast, or show of an influencer.
However, collaborations take time and cannot be forced. To scale more quickly, fall back on paid advertising.
The modern algorithms and extensive demographic information available make it possible to pay for advertisements to be shown to only your ideal, target customer. This means they can be very affordable and scaled quite effectively.
Start small and focus on executing your marketing efforts well (again, focus on quality). Once you’ve figured out a campaign that effectively converts traffic into customers at a profitable rate, increase your ad spend gradually.
Eventually, you’ll hit market resistance (a fatigue point) with any ad campaign. Continue to experiment and find new campaigns that convert at profitable rates.
How to Build an Online Business
- Choose a group of people who have something in common.
- Create free content to get them interested in you.
- Engage with them.
- Listen to them.
- Discover what they want.
- Create what they want.
- Share what you have created.
- Promote what you have created.
There’s just one main concept of business (sell something to someone), but there are EIGHT different ways that this can be executed. Find out which one is the best fit for your business with my free ebook, “The Eight Ways to Make Money Online EXPLAINED.”
Click for a free, instant download!