How to Start an Internet Business

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How to Start an Internet Business

If you're interested in learning how to start an internet business, it helps to break down the process into four steps:

  1. 1
    Clarify your passion and the purpose of your business
  2. 2
    Develop a preliminary monetization plan (how you'll make money)
  1. 3
    Build your website (a ten-step process which I outline on this page)
  2. 4
    Find your tribe and market your business to the people who are looking for you

In the previous step we discussed how to clarify what your business should be about, including identifying your passion, conducting market research, and narrowing down your niche. The next step is to figure out how you’d like to make money from your website. 

But First, a Few Side Notes....

Before we explore the different ways in which you can make money from your online business, it’s important to remember a few things:

  • Go with the flow! This part of your business can be, and should be, fluid and flexible. Unlike choosing your business concept, whatever you decide at this initial stage is not set in stone. This is just a preliminary plan, so if you’re not sure yet what you want to do, then don’t panic. As you build your business, you will be surprised at how you slowly start to gravitate toward certain ideas; or just as likely, your readers will help guide you.
  • Flexibility can be the key to your success. When I started my first online business, I thought I would just make a  little side income selling an ebook I planned to write and perhaps some advertising once my readership grew. But after repeated, almost relentless, requests from my readers, I realized what they REALLY wanted was an online course. Thankfully I was flexible enough to listen to my readers and self-disciplined enough to teach myself what I needed to learn in order to progress (in this case, how to create an online course). It took awhile to create; but my course ended up making $15,000 on the day of the launch, and continued to make $3000 - $5000 a month for several years after that. When I first started my site I never would have guessed that I'd create a course; but I listened to my readers, adapted, and my "side business" ended up being much more successful than I ever could have anticipated. Moral of the story? Listen to your audience, adapt, learn new skills as needed, and succeed!
  • Already have a product or service? Even if you think you already know what you want to sell (for example if you’re an artist and you want to sell your work or you offer a service and you want to promote your business), I encourage you to read through the info on this page; as it may open up some amazing opportunities for supplemental income that you hadn’t thought of before. 
  • Don't let indecision hold you back from starting. Monetization takes time. You have to create your website and build an audience before you need to figure out how to monetize. The most important thing at this stage is to get your website up and running. Don’t put your website on hold while you build your online course; that’s a HUGE mistake for many reasons. It merely helps at this stage to have a general grasp of what the options are as you build your site; because your monetization decisions might affect how you write, how you organize your site structure, and what you'll use to entice your audience (all things we will discuss later). 

So, to reiterate, this step is meant to open your eyes to the possibilities of making money from your website; so that you can create a loose, flexible plan. Then you will start building your site to start building traffic, and THEN you’ll begin monetizing. 

Two Online Business Categories

There are countless people making money from online businesses. Some just make enough to have a side income; which can help pay off debt, put toward retirement, or save for that dream vacation every year. But plenty of others are able to turn their online business into a full-time career. And many others, probably more than you would believe, are making six or seven figures from their online endeavors. Some experts say that online marketing has made more millionaires than any other industry.  

All of this from the comfort of your own home (or anywhere in the world), with nothing more than a laptop. 

So the first question, of course, is how are people making money from their online businesses?

At this point, we need to separate people who want to build an online business into two general categories:

  1. 1
    Small Business Owners: This category is for you if you already have some kind of business that you want to promote. This applies to you whether you are an artist, a writer, a yoga instructor, an accountant, a coffee shop owner, a plumber, a consultant, a coach, etc. In other words, this is anyone who has any kind of interest in a specific business and already knows what you want to sell or promote. 
  2. 2
    "Solopreneurs:" This is a bit of an odd word that has been loosely adopted by the internet world, indicating anyone who wants to make money online but doesn't have a specific off-line product, service, or business to promote. It’s spun off the word “entrepreneur,” but that word sometimes implies someone that is building an entire business with employees and (sometimes) a physical location. “Solopreneur” narrows it down to a person who is running solo with just a laptop and a message to share. These people are also often referred to as "information experts," but I tend not to use that term because it scares people away who feel they aren't "experts" in anything. And I truly believe that each and every one of you has something to share upon which you can build an online business, whether you feel like you're an "expert" or not.

Of course, there’s always the third option, which is using a combination of the tactics above; but very few people recognize just how viable an option this is. So, if you’re an artist or a small business owner, please keep reading as you might learn how you can add to your business to increase your options for income.

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How to Make Money from Your Online Business

The first category, Small Business Owners, have an obvious plan on how they’ll make money: they will sell their products, promote their services, or promote their small business. But again, I encourage you to keep reading because in a minute you’ll see how you can supplement your business and and create more, sustainable income streams. In other words, there are ways to add onto your current passion to make even more money so you can break free of the "starving artist" or struggling entrepreneur stereotypes. 

  • Sell products or services online; products include art, candles, essential oils, clothing, home décor 
  • Promote services: life or career coach, handyman, writer for hire, graphic designer 
  • Many people want a website to promote their “brick-and-mortar” small business: maybe you own a small restaurant, café, or coffee shop, or a home décor store, a bookstore, a furniture upholstery business, or a candle shop like we discussed earlier. Either way, you need a place to send customers to when they want to know details about what you have to offer, and also to let people in your area know you exist. So, while this isn’t exactly an online business per se, you are using an online presence to expand your customer base for your physical business. 

As we just discussed, solopreneurs are people who don’t have a product, service, or business to sell; so how do they make their money?  

Solopreneurs choose a topic that they are either knowledgeable about, or are passionate about. They make money by first creating a website and then either packaging their own expertise or advice, or by promoting other people’s products or services that pertain to that topic. 

Now, this is when people start getting uncomfortable and resisting this idea of an online business. Most people are very resistant to the idea that they are knowledgeable enough about anything, and resist that they can teach, guide, or advise other people on anything at all. 

Absolutely everyone has something they are knowledgeable about or are passionate about….yes, even you. Everyone. I find that most people are incredibly insecure and humble about their knowledge and abilities, and therefore are uncomfortable with putting themselves in a position of being an “expert.” But I can promise you, as long as you know just a few things about a topic, you know more than someone else who is just starting out.

Notice that I keep saying “knowledgeable or passionate about.” That’s because in order to start an online business, you don’t have to be an expert on your topic; you just have to be interested in it enough to want to learn more and share what you’ve learned with other people.

In order to start an online business,

you don’t have to be an expert on your topic. 

You just have to be interested in it enough

to want to learn more and share what you’ve learned

with other people.

An Online Business is Really Quite Simple...

Think of the last time you saw a fantastic movie, or found a great new store, or ate an amazing meal at a restaurant. More than likely, you told a few friends about it. Does that mean that you had to be Steven Spielberg in order to recommend the movie, or an expert on shopping to recommend the store, or that you had to become trained as a five-star chef before you could recommend the restaurant?  

Of course not. Because your opinion is enough. And more importantly your passion is what makes your friends want to listen to you and try that movie, store, or restaurant for themselves. 

And even more important than that, because of your recommendation you might help some other people have a great experience too. You just enhanced someone else’s life by sharing something great that you stumbled upon and took the time to tell others.

To take it even one step further, if your friends listen to you and try out that movie, store or restaurant and they love it too, then they’re going to more likely to listen to you the next time you have a recommendation. They might even come to you the next time they are looking for a specific movie, store or restaurant, because they’ve learned you have the same taste and now they trust you. So, even though you are by no means an “expert” in movie-making, store critiquing, or cooking, your opinion had a place in the world and made a difference in the lives of your friends. 

This is all an online business is. Sharing something you’re excited about with others so that they can benefit from it too.

As another side note, if the thing holding you back from pursuing your own business is because you’re not “sales-y” enough, then just keep this above example in your mind. This is not a shmarmy sales job where you have to “push” a product that you don’t believe in just to make money. This is a chance for you to take something you truly love and share it with others so that their lives might be improved in some way. That is all. You’re offering a service to humanity, you’re not selling your soul. If you keep this perspective in mind, then suddenly you can embrace your idea and move forward with pride, excitement, and motivation. 

How do Solopreneurs Make Money?

So how do solopreneurs (or small business owners who want to supplement their income) make money? 

There are two main methods: create your own digital  “products” by packaging your knowledge, information, or message in a way that’s most comfortable for you; or sell someone else’s products. 

What do we mean by products? This can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. Simple digital products can be as easy as creating a PDF checklist, guide, or ebook. You could literally do this in an hour or two, depending on your existing skills (and it’s all learn-able if you don’t know how to do anything). More complex ideas can include video courses (either you talking to the camera or Powerpoint presentations, where you don’t have to be on camera at all, podcasts, or membership sites. We’ll discuss each of these in greater detail down below. 

But first, don’t let any of this scare you; it sounds much more intimidating than it is. Many of these products can be created in a day or just a few hours; even if you’re a beginner. This means that you could make your first online sale much more quickly than you think. 

Benefits of Digital Products

We’ll explore different options for digital products in just a minute. But first, it helps to understand the incredible benefits of why creating an online business selling digital products is one of the best moves you could ever make. Because although some of it seems foreign and a bit intimidating at first, all of it is really rather simple and learnable. If you understand the endless rewards, then you’re much more likely to take a deep breath, sit down and spend a little time learning what it takes to get there. Again, it’s all do-able, learnable, and completely possible; and I will show you how to do it all. All you have to do is have the trust and dedication to keep moving forward. 

So why would you want to delve into this new world of online business and selling digital products?

  • “Passive” Income: One of the most intriguing benefits of creating an online business and making money from digital products is that once you create the product (or your website if you’re selling other people’s products), there’s nothing else to do but reap the rewards. The hardest part is creating it on the front end; then, once you put it “out there,” you can focus on other parts of your business and just let the sales come in. THIS is the part that many marketers will refer to as “passive income.” I don’t use that term too often because it takes a bit of work to get to the point where you’re making consistent sales, and I think “passive income” implies you don’t have to do any work at all. However it is passive in the sense that once you have everything up and running, it pretty much runs on autopilot; and takes almost no work on your end other than answering emails and staying on top of your marketing. And trust me, I know first-hand; there’s nothing like being out on a beautiful hike or hanging with friends or family at a restaurant and your cell phone dings, notifying you that you just made another sale while you’re out enjoying life!
  • No Inventory, Shipping, or Returns: Unlike with physical products, when you have an online business selling digital products there’s nothing physical to manage. You don’t have to fill your garage or spare bedroom with boxes of inventory, you don’t have to package and ship anything, you don’t have to deal with physical returns. Your customer clicks a button and the money shows up in your account. It doesn’t get any better (or easier) than this, unless you win the lottery J
  • Almost No Overhead: When you sell physical products, you usually only keep about 30-50% of the sale; the rest goes into the purchase of the product. With digital products, there’s zero overhead or cost other than the costs of hosting your website, payment processors, other software (which we discuss in great detail on this page) and your time. Which leads to…
  • You Stop Trading Your Time for Dollars: Nearly every online business person will tell you that part of the reason they got into this is the unlimited opportunity for income. When you work for someone else, or even if you’re a coach or a consultant, or run a shop or café, you trade your time for a set dollar amount; whether that’s hourly or your salary. And there is a set number of hours a week you can possibly work, even if you’re a workaholic (but then you have no life, and what good does that do?). But when you have an online business, there is no limit to how much you can make; and again all the work is on the front end when you’re first setting things up. And even that is a good investment; it takes the same amount of time to write an ebook or create a course and make ten sales, as it does to create that same ebook or course and make 10,000 sales. What other business model can say that?

Creating Your Own vs. Selling Other People's Info

So now that you are a little more clear on WHY you should start an internet business selling digital products, now we need to learn HOW you do this. 

Earlier I mentioned that you have two options when it comes to digital products; to create your own or sell someone else’s. I personally recommend creating a nice combination of both. Why?

When you sell someone else’s products, it’s really easy. All you have to do is create a website, create some great content, and market your site so you get a lot of traffic. However, you only make a percentage of the sale, which we’ll discuss more in a second.

When you create your own products, it’s more work up-front; but you keep 100% of the profit. 

So if you sell someone else’s products, how does that work? This is what we call affiliate marketing. Now, at this point there’s inevitably someone who starts getting “the creepy-crawlies” and starts shutting me out, because they have this vision in their mind of what affiliate marketing is. I think people have become so jaded toward anything with the word “marketing” in it that they don’t realize it’s a perfectly legitimate, ethical, not-smarmy business model. I presume this came from the days of Amway and multi-level marketing (MLM), where there was an ulterior motive for someone selling a product. Therefore a huge seed of distrust was planted in society against anything related to MLMs. 

I assure you, affiliate marketing has nothing to do with MLMs. Affiliate marketing is the oldest business model in the world. I am 100% positive you know at least one person in your life who’s “in sales.” They work for a legitimate company who sells legitimate products, and it’s your friend’s job to find the people that would benefit from that product and tell them all about it.

Affiliate marketing is the exact same thing; it just happens to take place online instead of in person.  

Now, admittedly, as with anything there are people who have taken the concept of affiliate marketing and turned it into something cheesy and unethical. We’ve all seen the ungodly smarmy sites, that just ooze sales copy and fake photos and false promises. So yes; affiliate marketing CAN be gross and smarmy. But affiliate marketing by nature isn’t, and doesn’t have to be.

They way to succeed in affiliate marketing is to take a topic that you’re truly passionate about, and recommend some products that you truly believe in. It’s that simple. And smarmy-free. 

I talk much more about the details of how affiliate marketing works on this page. But for now, just know that basically, you create a website, create some amazingly helpful information for your readers, and offer products that you truly believe in. When you recommend a product, you use a secretly-coded link that sends your customer to the company’s website. When that person purchases that product from that company, they make a sale and you get a commission. It’s all behind-the scenes, automated, smooth, and hassle-free. The company manages the sale, the packaging and shipping (if applicable), and even the returns. All you do is reap the benefit of the commission. That’s it.

Just about the only disadvantage to affiliate marketing is that your commission is a percentage of the sale. Which means that sometimes, depending on the product, you might only get a few bucks for your commission. Of course, if you choose to promote high-end products, it’s tougher to make a sale but the commissions are higher. 

This means that you need to drive a lot of traffic to your website in order to make a lot of money from your commissions.

That’s why many people prefer to create their own digital products. If you recommend an ebook as an affiliate, you might only make $1.50; but if you create your own ebook, you might make $15. Sure, it’s more work to create the ebook, but all of the work is up-front. Once you create your ebook, all you have to do is market it. 

And once you get into creating online video courses or membership sites, you will start to see the bigger payouts. On my first website I offered a course that sold for $500. I only needed to sell 6-10 of these a month to pay my bills; whereas if I was only making $1.50 commission on other people’s ebooks, I’d have to get a lot more traffic and make a lot more sales to pay my bills. 

However, admittedly this takes time. I suggest that you first create your website, get some affiliate income going, then add on your own digital products as you feel more comfortable in your new role as an online business owner.

Types of Digital Products

Whether you decide to go with affiliate marketing selling other people’s products or decide to create your own, there are a variety of ways that knowledge or passion can be packaged and shared with the world. 

Here are a few of the most popular types of digital products:

  • ebooks (you can sell directly from your website as a simple PDF, or from Amazon in Kindle format)
  • Guides, checklists, cheatsheets
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Video Courses
  • Email Courses
  • Membership Sites
  • Advertising (not really a product, but an effective way of making money from your site)

Of course the most successful online entrepreneurs use a strong combination of any or all of the above.

Which Product(s) Should You Choose?

First of all, at this stage in the game, if you’re not entirely sure, there’s no rush. The next step is to build your website and start getting traffic, and THEN you can decide how you want to monetize. You can’t monetize until you have consistent traffic; so you don’t have to decide now. I just presented this info at this stage in the process because you need to at least have an understanding of how website marketing works before you go any further. 

However, I will encourage you to go with what feels natural to you. I personally love to write and find writing to come naturally to me; therefore high content pages, blogging, and email marketing make the most sense for me. I absolutely despise my voice so I’ll probably never do a podcast. I don’t love being on video, but I find it to be the most effective method of teaching; so I do very little video of me and stick with PowerPoint presentations. 

Maybe you don’t enjoy writing but can talk for hours; in that case you’d want to go with podcasts. Perhaps you can’t write two sentences but put a video camera in front of you, and you shine. In that case, video marketing is your jam. 

Maybe you don’t like any of this and just want to stay as obscure and incognito as possible; in that case you would love affiliate marketing. You can create an entire site without anyone knowing who you are (I personally don’t recommend this, people usually feel more comfortable when they know who’s behind the message, but it is possible).  

The point is to create a business around who YOU are and what you enjoy doing. It’s always good to push a bit beyond your comfort zone, but don’t do anything that is so out of your comfort zone that you dread it. Because then you will resent the work, resent your business, and it won’t be authentic. You won’t enjoy what you’re doing, and you won’t succeed. Trust me, I found out that lesson the hard way; and after spending over a decade on a site I didn’t enjoy, I’m now starting over and doing what feels natural to me. 

So again, at this point you don’t have to make any major decisions, but just have a general idea of some of the options that are available to you as we progress into the next step; building your website!

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