Starting an Online Business Ain’t Easy. 10 Lessons Learned the Hard Way.

Man using laptop on edge of rooftop

When starting your first online business, it’s easy to have visions of money rolling in within weeks. But most people realise pretty quickly it ain’t that easy. In fact, many think it will be a cakewalk and then get discouraged when they realize how difficult it is. You have to treat an online business seriously. You have to treat it as a BUSINESS, not a hobby (a common mentality).

If you don’t, you WILL fail. Sorry. There are no shortcuts to success. It takes grit, determination and resilience. 

If the above hasn’t scared you off, these are the top 10 lessons we’ve learned when starting an online business.

Start with the right business model for YOU

There’s no point in starting a business you’re either not suited to or you’re going to hate.

You need to find a business model and idea that works for YOU and YOUR lifestyle. 

  • Do you want to sell physical products or digital products? 
  • How many hours per day can you dedicate to your new project? 
  • Are you on a shoestring budget or are you able to make upfront investments?
  • Are you technically minded? Or more of a creative?
  • How soon does money need to start rolling in?
  • Do you have a wealth of expertise and experience that could be leveraged online?

How you answer these questions will determine the type of business you should start. 

We created a 7-day course for learning about and choosing the right business model for you here.

Set Clear, Detailed Goals. Strategize from there.

Setting clear, detailed and measurable goals is key. You need to define your ‘why’ so you can motivate yourself when things get tough. 

It also helps you stay focused on the end result rather than day-to-day distractions that derail many online startups. Like social media or reading blogs about successful entrepreneurs who aren’t interested in helping you. 

Once you’ve defined your why, set clear and realistic goals for your business. What do you plan to achieve in the first year, 3 years and 5 years?  What is your end goal? 

Get clear on those then work your way backwards. 

How much profit will you need to make in your first year? Are you going to get there by selling a lot of cheaper products, or by selling a few big-ticket items? 

If you want to get more detailed, we’re fans of setting OKR’s (Objectives & Key Results). Developing your own OKR’s will help you get crystal clear on what your ultimate objectives are, the numbers you need to hit to meet those objectives, and what initiatives you’ll need to implement. Perdoo has a great breakdown of OKR’s here.

Do your homework. 

Don’t start your business before doing research on your preferred business model and niche. Know what you’re getting into and who the competition is. For example, if you want to start blogging, but there are established bloggers with 100k followers, it might not be feasible to blog in that space because the competition is too strong. Instead of bashing your head against a wall, find a different niche with weaker competition. 

The preliminary research basically boils down to this:

  • Is there money to be made? If yes, how are the most successful businesses doing it? And who are they marketing to?
  • Are there any gaps in the market that would allow you to differentiate yourself with less competition?

Know your audience.

You need to know your target audience inside out if you want to motivate them to buy from you.  The best way to do this is to talk to your customers and understand their needs, their problems, their dreams, and their online purchase habits. 

If you don’t have any customers yet, then it will mean doing more research. These are the places to research your target market:

  • Facebook Groups related to your niche
  • Amazon reviews for products in your niche (especially negative reviews)
  • Answer the public
  • Popular forums in your niche
  • Your top competitors. Chances are they’ve already done this process and you can see how they talk to their target audience and what problems they target.

The goal is to be able to be inside your target customer’s head so you can have a conversation with them. 

Take the customer research and build out a customer avatar for your ideal customer (you should have multiple, but start with 1). 

What’s a customer avatar? We’ll write an article dedicated to this in the near future, but in the meantime here’s a great explanation and demonstration of a customer avatar + a great worksheet here:  

Don’t go it alone.

You’re going to need help. Everyone needs help doing this, so don’t feel bad asking for it too! There are loads of free resources available online as well as communities that will be able to point you in the right direction. From support groups, forums and blogs there is plenty of help and advice out there. 

If possible find a mentor who is where you want to be. Having a mentor is incredibly valuable for motivation and accountability. But more importantly, for avoiding the mistakes they’ve made or have seen others made so you can take a shortcut to success.

If you can’t afford or find a mentor, a great substitute is to find good online communities such as forums or Facebook Groups. These can be amazing sources of insider information, inspiration, and support.

Invest in training and education

There are plenty of ways to learn online. From Udemy, Skillshare, Youtube and other platforms there is a wealth of information available to get started learning about internet marketing and online business.

Whenever I want to learn about something I first head to Google and start searching. But there are disadvantages to this. You have to do a lot of sifting to find the best, most relevant information. The information is often incomplete so you have to do more searching and sifting to fill in the missing pieces. This can be a huge time suck.

That’s where paid courses come in. Yes, they cost money. But they typically go deeper and are from someone who is a legitimate expert. They are also much better structured so you can get the information you need in the most efficient way possible.

Pst, we offer training here.

Get your first sale as quickly as possible

It’s easy to get discouraged when starting an online business. At times it can feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest and you can’t even reach the basecamp! 

This is where getting small wins can be a huge boost to your morale and momentum. Getting your first 100 website visitors, your first lead, your first sale, and eventually turning a profit for the first time. Get those small wins happening as quickly as possible and celebrate them as they come. 

It takes just one to breakthrough

We get into traffic and offers in more detail in our training programs, but your focus in the beginning should be on finding just ONE offer that converts from ONE traffic source. This will require a lot of testing and experimenting to find. But once you do, double down and repeat until you perfect it. 

If you manage to do this, you’ll be making enough money to hire a VA to manage the process, at which point you can start testing other offers and traffic sources. This is how you scale.

Build an email list from Day 1

Email marketing sometimes gets a reputation for being old hat. After all, it’s been around pretty much since the dawn of the internet. And it can get lost in the noise of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. 

But the fact is email marketing still returns a higher ROI than any other marketing platform. A list of engaged subscribers is a valuable asset that YOU own and can generate sales for years to come. You can’t rely on Facebook when they are oh so willing to kick you off. 

So make sure you incorporate email into your digital marketing strategy from the very beginning. The key is to attract high-quality subscribers and keep them happy and engaged. It makes the selling part so much easier.

We will be launching an email marketing course very soon. Click here to get on the waiting list to be notified first when it launches.

Measure What Matters

Traffic and offers won’t mean much if you’re not tracking the results. When you’re doing your goal setting, determine which metrics are most important to reach your goals. 

For us, we track email subscriber growth and revenue per subscriber as our north stars. But you should also be monitoring your traffic numbers, click-through rates, conversion rates and sales for each platform.

It is critical that you set up analytics for this. We recommend setting up Google Analytics as a minimum. If you’re advertising on Facebook you’ll need to set up and install your pixel. Then as you get more advanced, you can use something like ClickUp to get even more accurate and detailed analytics data.

Finally, Don’t give up. If something isn’t working, try a different approach. 

Not sure where to start? Start Here

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *